The protests at the University of Missouri have taken a novel turn. Even after the former university president stepped down, protesters — under the banner Concerned Student 1950 — have formed a self-declared safe space on the campus quad. The protesters, including a journalism professor at the university, were recently captured shouting and pushing down a photographer, claiming that he was threatening their safety. Not only did a journalist deny the photojournalist’s right to enter the tent city, but she attempted to grab his camera and threatened him to prevent him from covering the protest. This is exactly the wrong tactic for the protesters to take. Instead of taking a page from Donald Trump’s book and blocking media access to those they disagree with, the protestors should harness the media’s ability to affect change and get their views out nationwide.
Journalists can play a central role in furthering a movement. Since they provide protesters with a medium through which they can explain their mission statement and obtain support, blocking the media from accessing certain areas of their campus does not make no sense. Without coverage, the protesters have no platform to get their message out. It is counterproductive to cower behind the notion of safe spaces to shield their group from criticism. In order to face these problems, productive dialogue is necessary. These issues will never be resolved without an environment that is conducive to public discourse.
Safe spaces are important resources for many students where they can speak without feeling as if they are being judged or mocked. However, in this case they have been abused to suppress dissenting views. While the desire to protect students’ rights to speak freely is understandable, the fine line between protection and censor the media is easy to cross.
The right to free speech is integral to the act of protest. And just as student protestors have the right to occupy and organize in a safe space, individuals –– members of the media or not — have a constitutional right to enter that same space. The protesters are being hypocritical by denying journalists the same right that they are exercising.
“We ask for no media in the parameters so the place where people live, fellowship and sleep can be protected from twisted insincere narratives,” a Twitter account associated with the protesters later posted. Whether or not the protestors are justified in their claim, is irrelevant. To completely shut the media out of the conversation does the protesters no favors — the story has now become concerned with the actions of the protesters rather than their message. If the threat of a journalist twisting a group’s cause is grounds for outright rejection of all media coverage, then the protest is doomed from the start.
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