By Melissa Cirillo
Melissa Cirillo is a former AJR editorial assistant.
O n April 7, a federal marshal confiscated the recorders of two reporters during a speech by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at Presbyterian Christian High School in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Scalia has prohibited electronic recordings of his public appearances in the past. One of those journalists, 25-year-old Antoinette Konz, an education reporter at the Hattiesburg American, talked to AJR's Melissa Cirillo about that experience:
Q: What was going through your head when the marshal demanded that you turn over your tape recorder? Was there any inner struggle, hesitation or uncertainty?
A: At first, I was just really shocked... The justice was still speaking, and I was wondering why after 35 minutes she was coming up to me and asking me not to use my tape recorder.
Q: What made you finally decide to comply?
A: I thought, "Do I want to make more out of it?" I had a lot of questions going through my head..but out of a sense of professionalism and because Justice Scalia was still speaking and I didn't want to be disrespectful, I complied. And I knew that I would be seeing the marshal and the justice at a reception moments afterward.
Q: Do you have any regrets about how you handled the situation? Does it feel in any way like a missed opportunity?
A: I had just witnessed for five minutes what happened to the other reporter, and after taking into consideration my surroundings, I decided to just go along with it...but I demanded the tape back at the reception. I told [the marshal] I wasn't leaving without it... I told her that I had confidential information on the other side of the tape and that she didn't have a right to have it. She went to her supervisor and then came back and told me that I had to erase the speech... She stood there and watched me tape over it with blank air.
Q: You had been at an earlier speech at which he asked not to be recorded. Because of that, were you at all expecting this reaction to your taping?
A: I had no idea he didn't like taping by the media. I had never heard of newspapers not being allowed to use their tape recorders at something like this. I thought the announcement at William Carey College was strictly a William Carey College policy.
Q: Do you always tape for accuracy?
A: When it comes to important public figures, I will use my tape recorder for accuracy, but 75 percent of the time I rely on my notes. If it's a speech by someone like this, I know they've worked hard on it and I want to make sure that I'm accurate.
Q: Were you still able to get back-up notes or finish covering the story as you intended?
A: I still had about 20 pages of notes in a small reporter's notebook..and I still did the story from the portion I was able to hear.
Q: How appropriate is a ban on recording speeches?
A: This is a strong issue surrounding the First Amendment. There's no hidden agenda [when reporters use tape recorders]. This is strictly to report the news to the community..to make sure it's accurate... Things like this shouldn't happen.
Q: What was it like to be thrust into the national spotlight so quickly because of such a major freedom of the press issue?
A: I've only been a reporter for two years, but I've always been a firm believer in the freedom of the press, even when I was a child. It was very different being on the other end of the reporting scope--I'm used to being the one who asks the questions. I never imagined that what happened to the Associated Press reporter and I would gain the attention it did. I'm glad that it did, because in the end it caused Justice Scalia to revise his policy in terms of the print media. I know this is unrealistic, but I truly hope that what happened to me will never happen to another reporter ever again.
Q: How has the experience affected you as a journalist? Are you more energized in your career or at all concerned about the state of press freedom today?
A: It hasn't jaded me. I want to be a journalist now more than ever before. I want to educate law enforcement so that we don't have a repeat of what happened.
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