The Writers Guild of America, East and the NewsGuild-CWA on Tuesday called for the police who raided a Kansas newspaper over a public-records search to be held accountable, calling their actions an “affront to the constitutionally protected rights of journalists.”
In a statement, the striking unions issued a demand that “the Marion County Police Department be held accountable for its raid of the Marion County Record newspaper in Marion, Kansas.”
The statement follows the Aug. 11 incursion into the weekly newspaper’s offices and the homes of staffers, where cops seized computers, cell phones and other journalistic materials. The lengthy search of co-owner Joan Meyer’s home is believed to have contributed to the 98-year-old’s death the following day.
The reason for the raid appears to be a reporter’s use of a public database where she accessed the driving records of a restaurant owner in the town following a tip that she was driving without a license after she lost it to a DWI. The investigation purportedly involved an alleged identity theft.
While police claimed that the reporter, Phyllis Zorn, impersonated the woman by entering her name and driver’s license number into the database, the editor and publisher of the Record Eric Meyer; and the newspaper’s lawyer, Bernie Rhodes, have backed her efforts, stating that no laws were broken.
The Kansas Bureau of Investigation has taken over the case from local law enforcement, the Marion County Record reported last week.
“The officers and officials who seized computers, phones and other data from reporters and the newspaper’s offices engaged in activities that are an affront to the constitutionally protected rights of journalists and news media workers,” the joint statement from the WGA units said. “Press freedom is a cornerstone of our democracy that is enshrined in the First Amendment of our Constitution and our unions will do everything to protect and preserve a free and independent press.”
The union support for the tiny publication, which has gained thousands of subscriptions as news of the raid spread, follows condemnation of the raid from The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Associated Press and more than 30 other news organizations led by Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
“This shouldn’t happen in America. Freedom of the press is fundamental to our democracy,” Emily Bradbury, the executive director of the Kansas Press Association, said to the Washington Post in pledging to support the news outlet. “We’re not going to let this stand on our watch.”
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