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The Jefferson Journal is JPR's members' magazine featuring articles, columns, and reviews about living in Southern Oregon and Northern California, as well as articles from NPR. The magazine also includes program listings for JPR's network of radio stations.

Standing Up For Journalists

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Still from video provided by attorney Jason Kafoury.
In acquired police bodycam footage from Sept. 22, 2020 then-JPR reporter April Ehrlich is confronted by Medford Police as she tries to report on the removal of a homeless camp in Hawthorne Park.

After the announcement that charges against April would be dismissed or dropped, one social media post suggested that April should have followed the orders of police that day as a way of showing “respect for police officers … trying to do a dangerous job.”

This issue is not about who deserves more respect — law enforcement or journalists. Both perform vital work in our society. It is about law enforcement providing reasonable access to the press when covering events and government actions in public places and facilitating the constitutionally protected rights of journalists to inform the public.

In September, a Medford court dismissed the charges filed by the City of Medford against former JPR reporter April Ehrlich. You might remember that April was arrested by the Medford Police Department in 2020 for attempting to report for JPR on the removal of unhoused campers in Medford’s Hawthorne Park. April’s arrest drew national attention as a case that tested the First Amendment right of journalists to document government activities in public spaces. JPR joined 51 other news organizations, including NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, Politico and Pro Publica, on an Amicus brief that was filed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to urge the court to dismiss the charges.

On the day April was arrested, she arrived at Hawthorne Park before dawn to assess her opportunities to speak with campers and survey sources that might be important for her story. For a reporter, the story you tell depends greatly on who you talk with. April began talking to campers, pursuing the human element of the story. She asked them how long they had been in the park, were they displaced in connection with the Almeda Fire, had they tried to find space in shelters, where would they go?

When police arrived, they began clearing the park, enforcing an order to close the park to “allow for the sanitation, cleaning, and inspection of City property.” They directed all reporters and news media to a “media staging area” according to a statement released by MPD. The staging area was located at one of the entrances to the park along a busy road, where it was not possible to see or hear interactions between police officers and campers, or gather audio.

That didn’t make sense to April — she was a professional, credentialed journalist on public property documenting an official government action. There was no visible threat to her or anyone else’s safety. She identified herself as a journalist and attempted to continue her reporting, until she was forced to the ground, handcuffed and arrested.

The City of Medford pursued charges against April for nearly two years.

We’re heartened that ultimately the court dismissed the charges and stood by the important work journalists do every day as a foundational institution of our democracy.

Paul Westhelle oversees management of JPR's service to the community.  He came to JPR in 1990 as Associate Director of Broadcasting for Marketing and Development after holding jobs in non-profit management and fundraising for a national health agency. He's a graduate of San Jose State University's School of Journalism and Mass Communications.