How to film a protest

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They neglect to mention the most important point – While the media sometimes has a get out of jail free card, do not assume you can join in a riot, and they cry “Press!” when you are arrested with the rest of the rioters and all will be well. The ACLU site they link to calls this out in bold: the right to photograph does not give you a right to break any other laws

Also their #2 item is misleading at best

As a filmmaker, you have the right to film police so long as you keep a “reasonable distance” and do not interfere with the activity of law enforcement. (Keep in mind that if an officer asks you to move away, you have three chances to do it before they have the right to cuff you.) At no time may police confiscate your equipment without a warrant.

  • Reliance on a mythical “3 warnings” rule will get you arrested/maced/etc.
  • When you are arrested, you will be separated from your equipment. You may be charged, possibly even with felony rioting.
  • Do not assume the police will recognize you as a journalist, particularly if your actions (or just your website) paint you as an independent activist journalist. Journalists have no special rights.
  • Do not assume that the protesters know you are on their side. In Charlotte, both CNN and NBC (WCNC) had reporters, photographers attacked. Not just stuff thrown, but attempted murder.

Rule #0: Don’t film protesters who are trying to be anonymous, for example wearing masks or asking you not to record them. You don’t know what risks a person may be taking by even being seen in a protest. So even if the video would be great, it’s not worth risking the safety of the participants.


I disagree with this as a blanket rule.

If the public’s interest outweighs the individual’s, then one should document protesters even if they’re trying to be anonymous. Weighing those factors is part of professional journalism.

An example situation would be where you wouldn’t be able to honestly depict reality without filming them, like for instance, in a large black bloc action or a riot.

That said, there is no reason to go out of your way to identify them and one should make thoughtful decisions about when to blur faces and cutting anything that doesn’t meaningfully add to the documentation before publishing.

Of course if you’re just some random guy looking to film protest porn… well you’re not following any rules, ethical or otherwise, anyway.

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Weighing the needs of the individual against the needs of society is part of being human. While some professional journalists may see themselves as above politics, depicting an objective reality, the article discusses acting in solidarity with protesters to help their voices be heard. I think that’s a more honest way of understanding the role of a journalist in social struggle. Journalists are activists too, it’s just some of them obscure what side they’re on.

So yes, it’s important to weigh the needs of the public to know what’s happening. But it’s also important to weigh the needs of the public to be safe protesting in the streets, and also to feel confident that journalists care about them and will have their backs. And ultimately that leads to better coverage. Journalists have very strong ethics about protecting anonymous sources, and part of the reasoning is that even if the story would better depict reality by outing the source, it would set the overall endeavor back by making people scared and hostile towards journalists. A similar attitude should be taken towards recording protesters.

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