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Newsroom search and seizures: What this means for the future of journalism

Posted by Sara Cooper | Aug 15, 2023 | 0 Comments

PC: Foothill College

Police in Marion, Kansas raided a local newspaper office on Friday and the homes of the news organizations' publishers and reporters.

According to the Guardian, “Eric Meyer, the owner and publisher of the Marion County Record, told the Kansas Reflector that the city's entire five-officer police force and two sheriff's deputies conducted the raid, which included the seizure of computers, cellphones and reporting materials.”

Meyer says that the seizure and raid was due to a confidential source that had sent over critical, sensitive documents to the newspaper. He compared the seizure to one that was given by a “repressive government regime.”

This all started out when Kari Newell, a city restaurant proprietor, gave authority to the police to remove Marion County Record reporters from an open forum held by the US congressman Jake LaTurner. The congressman's staff apologized as they had invited the press.

According to Meyer, a confidential source leaked evidence that Newell had been convicted of drink-driving and continued using her vehicle without a license. But the paper never published anything related to it as they suspected the source was relaying information from Newell's husband during their divorce proceedings. (Guardian)

Meyer had told a news organization called the Kansas Reflector that the entire police force of 5 officers and 2 sheriff's deputies had operated the raid that resulted in the seizure of cellphones, computers, and reporting materials.

The Kansas Reflector reported: “Police notified Newell, who then complained at a city council meeting that the newspaper had illegally obtained and disseminated sensitive documents, which isn't true. Her public comments prompted the newspaper to set the record straight in a story published Thursday.”

Despite Newhall admitting to drinking and driving with arrest and driving with a suspended license, the raid still was permitted and not regretted by police. No given time was told to the publishing group about when their equipment and reporting material would be returned.

The Kansas Reflector reported: “The search warrant, signed by Marion county district court magistrate judge Laura Viar, appears to violate federal law that provides protections against searching and seizing materials from journalists. The law requires law enforcement to subpoena materials instead. Viar didn't respond to a request to comment for this story or explain why she would authorize a potentially illegal raid.”

“An attack on a newspaper office through an illegal search is not just an infringement on the rights of journalists but an assault on the very foundation of democracy and the public's right to know,” said Emily Bradbury, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, in a statement to the Kansas Reflector. “This cannot be allowed to stand.”

The chairperson of the National Newspaper Association, John Galer, added in a statement on Facebook: “Newsroom raids in this country receded into history 50 years ago. Today, law enforcement agencies by and large understand that gathering information from newsrooms is a last resort and then done only with subpoenas that protect the rights of all involved.

“For a newspaper to be intimidated by an unannounced search and seizure is unthinkable in an America that respects its first amendment rights.”

Raiding newspaper organizations without valid probable cause that has also been very much verified as an illegal search and seizure. With the police department with no regards any sentiment of giving accountability for their constitutional violations, journalism, especially local journalism, is being layered with more oppression and penalties to keep authentic investigative reporting alive.

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