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Journalist Facing Felony Charges For Filming Dakota Access Pipeline Protest Speaks Out

“Journalism needs to be passionately and ethically pursued and defended if we are to remain a free democratic country,” declared Deia Schlosberg, a climate journalist and filmmaker facing 45 years in prison for covering a major demonstration against the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota.

For months, protests, including nonviolent direct action, have taken place with indigenous people, who will be negatively impacted by the pipeline, at the forefront. An encampment called Sacred Stone Camp near the Standing Rock reservation has stood as a grand example of resistance.

On October 11, Schlosberg was arrested in Walhalla, North Dakota. The police confiscated her camera and footage. She was in detention for 48 hours and denied access to a lawyer. Then, on October 14, she was charged with three felony charges: conspiracy to theft of property, conspiracy to tampering with or damaging a public service, and conspiracy to theft of services.

Coverage of Schlosberg, who is also the producer of Josh Fox’s documentary, “How to Let Go Of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change,” universally refers to her as a filmmaker. However, in this case, she was clearly engaged in a journalistic act that authorities in North Dakota have criminalized. Arresting and charging her with felonies is an attack on her constitutional rights.

“When I was arrested, I was doing my job. I was reporting. I was documenting,” Schlosberg stated. “Freedom of the press, guaranteed by the First Amendment, is absolutely critical to maintaining an informed citizenry, without which, democracy is impossible.”

Schlosberg added, “It is the responsibility of journalists and reporters to document newsworthy events, and it is particularly important for independent media to tell the stories that mainstream media is not covering. The mainstream did not break the story on fracking nor did it break the story about what is happening at the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, nor the stories told in my most recent film with Josh Fox, ‘How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change.'”

“Accordingly, I felt I had a duty to document the unprecedented #ShutItDown climate action, which stopped all Canadian oil sands from entering the United States. Canadian oil sands importation is a controversial issue that is not getting the coverage it warrants, especially considering that the extraction and use of oil sands has a profound impact on every person on this planet.”

Schlosberg shared, “I have sought to portray and humanize the climate movement that is fighting for all of us with integrity, resilience and deep compassion.” She highlighted the outrageous felony charges against Lindsey Grayzel and Carl Davis, two reporters who covered similar action in the state of Washington.

Yesterday, a judge ruled against a felony charge against “Democracy Now!” host Amy Goodman. She was charged for covering pipeline protests and criminalized after video of private security guards unleashing dogs on protesters went viral in early September. (Initially, Goodman faced a criminal trespassing charge.)

“This is a complete vindication of my right as a journalist to cover the attack on the protesters, and of the public’s right to know what is happening with the Dakota Access pipeline,” Goodman declared. “We will continue to report on this epic struggle of Native Americans and their non-Native allies taking on the fossil fuel industry and an increasingly militarized police in this time when climate change threatens the planet.”

Disappointingly, very few journalists in the American press have shown solidarity with Goodman and other journalists under attack for doing their job.

“Few corporate media journalists took note of a fellow reporter being charged with trespass for doing her job,” wrote Jim Naureckas of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). “When the prosecutor upped the ante by trying to build a criminal charge based on his perception of a reporter’s point of view, this still did not provoke much attention—let alone outcry—from outlets whose lucrative commercial enterprises are dependent on the protection of the First Amendment.”

Naureckas continued, “If there are any regretful reporters at the New York Times, Washington Post, the broadcast or cable news outlets, or any of the other media properties that neglected to cover Goodman’s case when she stood accused of thoughtcrime, they can make up for it by reporting on the still-pending case of documentary filmmaker Deia Schlosberg, who is facing up to 45 years in prison based on three felony counts derived from her reporting on the Dakota Access protests.”

“The First Amendment you save may be your own.”

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."