CJFE concerned by unwarranted arrest of American journalist Dan Heyman

Thursday, May 11, 2017
1 reactions

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(PHOTO: Phil Roeder/Flickr)

CJFE is deeply concerned by reports that American journalist Dan Heyman was recently arrested for asking questions to White House aides. On May 9, Heyman, reporting for the Public News Service, followed Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price through a hallway in the West Virginia state capitol, asking whether domestic violence would be considered a preexisting condition under the American Health Care Act. Secretary Price, accompanied by special counsel to the president Kellyanne Conway, offered no answer, despite Heyman asking several times. Heyman was then forcibly removed and arrested by capitol police, and charged with willful disruption of state government processes, or “causing a disturbance by yelling questions at Ms. Conway and Secretary Price.” Heyman was later released on $5,000 bail. 

Heyman stated in a later news conference that he had simply been doing his job, as a journalist seeking information and answers from a public representative. His baseless arrest is another flashpoint in the Trump administration’s adversarial relationship with the media, and raises further concern about the state of press freedom in the United States. From the barring of select news organizations from White House press briefings to the president himself calling the media “an enemy of the American people,” the media has been under near constant attack from the United States government this year. 

This is cause for alarm for journalists and citizens alike. Authoritarianism and media suppression go hand in hand—a free and informed press provides the public with the information they need to hold their governments accountable. If reporters like Heyman cannot ask questions of their representatives freely and without fear of harassment and arrest, it is ultimately the public that loses out. 

CJFE condemns this affront to press freedom and to ability of reporters to pursue and disseminate critical public interest information. CJFE calls on West Virginia authorities to immediately drop all charges against Heyman and cease unwarranted arrests of journalists. We further urge authorities to respect the rights of journalists to ask questions of government officials and work to protect press freedom in the country. 


 

This letter of concern was sent to Patrick Morrisey, Attorney General of West Virginia 

CC: Jeff Sandy, Cabinet Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety

The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs

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  • commented 2017-05-12 19:02:37 -0400
    I can see where you might have missed a possible other reason Heyman was arrested, seeing as every news source chose to take his word and ignore the word of the police. Here is the statement from Lawrence Messina, the director of communication for West Virginia’s Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.

    The officer who wrote the report said that he and one of his fellow officers “were able to detain the defendant before he tried aggressively to breach the security of the secret service.”

    “As the criminal complaint explains, this is not about someone trying to ask questions,” said Lawrence Messina, the director of communication for West Virginia’s Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. “The individual repeatedly tried to push his way past secret service agents who were providing for the safety and security for an event at the state capitol. There were other reporters present who asked questions without incident.”

    In a cursory flip through major media outlets, I couldn’t find one which gave the statement the same play as Heyman’s account. In fact, almost every headline says Heyman was arrested for asking questions, which is not what the police said. Did you contact Messina? Did you have any idea about the statement? Are you in the habit of taking the word of the arrestee over that of the police. Is it common practice to completely omit the police statement?

    I’m not saying the police were in the right. As a former newspaper reporter and GM, I want the media to be free to ask all the questions they want. But I also expect the media to be fair and report both sides of the story. That didn’t happen here, and it certainly wasn’t considered before you wrote this letter.