Thursday, April 11, 2013

Staughton Lynd on Media Access.

Staughton Lynd's arguments for why the media ought to be allowed to interview the Lucasville Uprising Prisoners. Written on the eve of the 20th Anniversary Hunger Strike demanding media access.
 Friends and colleagues,
    As you may know, there have been two AP articles this week on the need for media access to prisoners found guilty of alleged misconduct in the Lucasville uprising of April 1993.
    The second article, below, informs readers that four Lucasville defendants at the Ohio State Penitentiary, S.A. Hasan, Keith LaMar, and Jason Robb (sentenced to death) and Gregory Curry (sentenced to life imprisonment), will begin a hunger strike tomorrow morning, Thursday April 11, twenty years from the day the 1993 rebellion began.  The sole issue of this particular action is the demand for media access.
    The article also contains excerpts of an interview the AP reporter conducted, over the telephone, with S.A. Hasan.
    I have been emphasizing to reporters and others that there are two important reasons for media access.  The first is to humanize the prisoner.  This was dramatically achieved in an event at Youngstown State University on April  3, when Keith LaMar spoke to the audience by telephone while pictures of him were projected on a screen.
    The second reason for face-to-face interviews is that it gives the prisoner a way to contribute to the search for truth about his alleged crimes.  Other means of communication, such as writing a letter or making a telephone call, cannot achieve what is possible when a journalist and a prisoner can speak face to face, permitting the reporter to ask follow-up questions as in a courtroom cross-examination.
    There is an important legal opinion on this issue.  In Saxbe v. Washington Post Co., 417 U.S. 847 (1984), the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia remanded the case to the District Court with the request that the lower court determine "the extent to which the accurate and effective reporting of news has a critical dependence upon the opportunity for private personal interviews."  The District Court took testimony from six expert witnesses, including Arthur Lehman, counsel for the New York State Special Commission on Attica.  This evidence persuaded the District Court "to find as a fact that the absolute interview ban [at issue in the case] precludes accurate and effective reporting on prison conditions and inmate grievances."
    When the case went up to the United States Supreme Court, a ban on interviews in federal prisons was found to be lawful, despite the holding of the District Court.  But there is a powerful dissent by Justices Powell, Brennan and Marshall, from which I take my summary of the District Court proceedings.
    I also recommend a law review article: Alana M. Sitterly, "Silencing Death Row Inmates: How Hammer v. Ashcroft Needs a Rational Basis for its Rational Basis," George Mason University Civil Rights Law Journal (Spring 2011).  The basic point of this article is that a court should not speculate as to the reasons why a prison administration might have prohibited interviews.  The prison administration should be obliged to say why it forbade interviews and to offer evidence in the record for this decision.
    Finally, I observe that the Lucasville prisoners are speaking out more and more, and that at last we are beginning to build a case in the "court of public opinion."
    I shall send the article and this message to Hasan, Bomani, and Jason, as well as Gregory Curry, George Skatzes, and James Were, by regular United States mail.
                                                                                                            Staughton Lynd   

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