‘You’re Not Allowed To Film’: The Fight To Control Who Reports From Portland

‘You’re Not Allowed To Film’: The Fight To Control Who Reports From Portland, by Nancy Rommelmann.

“YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO FILM!” is a cry you hear incessantly at protests in Portland, Oregon, always shouted at close range to your face by after-dark demonstrators. You can assert that, yes, you can film; you can point out that they themselves are filming incessantly; you can push their hands away from covering your phone; you can have your phone record them stealing your phone—all of these things have happened to me—and none will have any impact on their contention that “YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO FILM” and its occasional variation, “PHOTOGRAPHY EQUALS DEATH!”

I cannot say who came up with these anti-camera battle cries. But it’s easy to understand why protesters use them: to shape the narrative the country sees about the protests. And that narrative, in my estimation after many weeks covering street clashes in a city where I lived for 15 years, is 90 percent bullshit. …

On the one hand:

The IPC and other documentarians who are deemed sympathetic to the activists’ cause agree on certain principles. You do not show activists’ faces. You only show activists in a defensive position: responding to, rather than inciting, violence. You enhance what can appear to be police brutality, e.g., activists defending themselves with homemade shields, often bearing the anarchist circle-A, against police. The shields are largely ineffective for personal defense, but extremely effective for optics, and that’s precisely the point. …

On the other:

Reporters seen as not sufficiently sympathetic to the cause — which is defined by the Ten Demands for Justice, and includes most notably the abolition of the police — will be followed, be harassed, have their notes photographed and their phones blocked or stolen. (All these things have happened to me in the last month. A photographer friend has been repeatedly doxxed and placed on a list of “enemies.”)

If you forget any of these rules, you can just refer to the handy Google spreadsheet of approved journalists and suggested behavior. The spreadsheet contains names, Twitter handles, and ways to financially support the journos who make the cut.

“Shaping” the news, so our understanding of reality suffers.