The delicate relationship between the media and law enforcement has been getting a little extra attention since last week's run-in between news photographers and law enforcement officers in Davis County.
The incident occurred when KUTV photographer O.C. Budge and Deseret News photographer Don Rosebrock attempted to take pictures of a drug bust on I-15 near Farmington that followed a high-speed chase. The two journalists claim that police officers on the scene harassed both of them, seizing Rosebrock's camera and film and eventually twisting Budge's arm behind his back and forcing him to his knees. KUTV viewers saw some of Budge's footage from the scene last week, with officers threatening and attempting to block his camera.According to police officials, the officers were concerned about undercover agents on the scene and were just trying to prevent the photographers from endangering their comrades by publicizing their pictures. But the media isn't buying it.
"Nobody said to O.C., `We're worried about this. Please work with us,"' said KUTV News Managing Editor Brad Remington. "We're not interested in hurting an undercover officer. We've cooperated with police many times on stuff like that. But these guys didn't even try. They just got belligerent."
"Our Constitutional right to cover the news was compromised," said Deseret News Managing Editor LaVarr Webb, "and our reporters were subjected to abusive treatment from police that no citizen should be subjected to."
Davis County Sheriff's Department officials could not be reached for comment despite several attempts Thursday morning. But they did meet with Remington and Webb earlier this week to hammer out the differences that were clearly in evidence on I-15 last week.
"Fortunately, this kind of thing doesn't happen very often," Remington said of the freeway incident. "But the potential is always there."
That's because there seems to be a natural friction between police and the media. Reporters and police officers are often working at the same places at the same time. But they are doing very different things.
"As we both try to do our jobs there are sometimes conflicts," Webb said. "Our jobs are different, we have different agendas. But there are legal ways to deal with conflicts when they arise."
Remington acknowledged that "sometimes reporters step out of line, sometimes police officers do. We tell our reporters to cooperate with police, but not to let them tell us how to do our job.
"We try to behave ourselves," he continued, "and I think that in Utah the press has been pretty responsible. But we think people have a right to know what's going on. That's our first priority."
Added Webb: "We're willing to cooperate with the police, but only within the bounds of their authority. We have a problem when they try to step outside of those bounds."
But perhaps future problems can be averted as a result of this episode. Webb said Davis County officials have been willing to talk about the incident, leading to more dialogue about the police-press relationship in general. "They need us and we need them," Webb said. "We can co-exist, but first we have to be able to communicate."
In meetings - and on the streets.