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Undercover Watchdog Journalism Is Illegal In Oregon Lawsuit Seeks To Change Unconstitutional And Draconian Law

  • OREGON ATTORNEY GENERAL ROSENBLUM AND MULTNOMAH COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY MICHAEL SCHMIDT NAMED IN LAWSUIT CHALLENGING STATE RECORDING LAW

  • O’KEEFE: “IMAGINE THE STATESMAN OR THE OREGONIAN’S COVERAGE OF LOCAL NEWS WITH THIS CHANGE” 

  • BARR: “THIS CRIMINALIZATION OF JOURNALISM STRIKES AT THE EXERCISE OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT”

  • EDE: “OREGON STANDS AT ODDS WITH A VAST MAJORITY OF STATES…THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION… AND WITH DECADES OF US SUPREME COURT RULINGS

  • OREGON POLICE OFFICERS MAY RECORD TASING SUSPECTS, BUT PEOPLE CANNOT RECORD BEING TASED

[PORTLAND, ORE.–AUG 24,2020] The state of Oregon has been sued in Federal court today to declare provisions of a state law as unconstitutional by Project Veritas (PV) and Project Veritas Action Fund (PVAF).

Click HERE to view the entire lawsuit.

“We are seeking to strengthen watchdog journalism by overturning an unconstitutional law criminalizing the kind of corruption-exposing journalism which holds the powerful accountable across the country,” said James O’Keefe, the founder and CEO of PV and PVAF.

The challenge to Oregon’s undercover journalism ban found in Section 165.540 names Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schmidt and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum as the two defendants.

Section 165.540 bars individuals from obtaining or attempting to obtain the whole or any part of a conversation by means of any device, contrivance, machine or apparatus, whether electrical, mechanical, manual or otherwise, if not all participants in the conversation are specifically informed that their conversation is being obtained.

“Imagine the Statesman Journal or the Oregonian’s coverage of Portland’s violent and destructive protests if they were able to record deep inside the civil unrest and expose who is really behind the violence. By denying the right to record, Oregon bans the most effective means of gathering the news,” O’Keefe said.

“We made First Amendment history with our legal victory in Massachusetts federal court, when the judge struck down that state’s multiple-party consent laws for recording public officials conducting the public’s business and we are now trying to restore the First Amendment to Oregon,” O’Keefe said.  

O’Keefe asserted that the current law places citizen journalists in physical jeopardy given the proclivity of both police officers and protestors to engage in violence directed at journalists during heated times.

In the motion filed today, PV and PVAF request that the court strike down the laws creating the current multiple-party consent regime and grant preliminary and permanent injunctive
relief against enforcement of these laws against any activity that would have constituted secret recordings and the release of those recordings.

The lawsuit states:

“But for Oregon recording law, PVA would investigate allegations of corruption at the
offices of the Oregon Public Records Advocate and the Public Records Advisory Council. In 2019, Oregon’s Public Records Advocate resigned due to alleged pressure from or mismanagement by Governor Kate Brown. But for section 165.540, PVA would investigate this issue and secretly record interactions with the Advocate, his staff, and members of the PRA Council in: (a) open-air cafes in Portland, (b) public parks, (c) on sidewalks, and (d) in other public areas. If secret recording is not achievable, it would utilize open recording in these same circumstances. Specifically, the project would examine whether the Advocate and Council operate impartially or with pressure from the Governor. These methods of newsgathering are all illegal under section 165.540.”

The lawsuit goes into more detail about the current how PV and PVAF could focus investigations in Oregon on the dramatic rise in violent protests in Portland between the police and members of Antifa and other fringe groups, stating:

“…Some newspaper reports suggest that Portland police have been ordered to stand down and to not engage protestors, even when they act violently or damage property. This investigation involves four distinct sets of reporting activities:

PV would secretly record interactions between the police and protestors to observe and report whether usual policing functions are occurring in Portland.

PV would secretly record discussions between PV journalists and the police to gather
candid police perspectives on the causes of the protests and investigate issues that may not be known by the public.

PV would secretly record discussions between PV journalists and protestors to gather protestors’ perspectives about the causes of the protests, to learn about
instances of police abuse, and to investigate any anti-police animus.

In less dangerous situations or when the situation does not permit for ease of secret
recording, PV would openly record discussions with protestors but without specifically informing everyone in the conversation of the recording.”

Ben Barr, one of the attorneys filing the lawsuit, said, “Oregon law currently makes it a criminal act to record a protest, or an interview, or nearly any other interaction without clear and conspicuous notice to anyone whose voice might be recorded.”

Barr said this criminalization of journalism strikes at the exercise of the First Amendment.

“The courts have used this law to endorse the arrest of a citizen who held a camera, warned the person he was filming that he had them on camera, but didn’t specifically warn the camera captured audio,” he said. “It is absurd.  But more importantly, it is unconstitutional.”

Jered Ede, the chief legal officer for PV and PVAF, said while the Oregon laws offer
very limited opportunities to openly record, the law is suspiciously under and over inclusive. 

“Oregon stands at odds with a vast majority of states which permit undercover journalism, with the United States Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of the press, and with decades of legal Supreme Court rulings deeming laws such Oregon’s unconstitutional,” said Ede.