Guide to Reporting at the 2012 Republican and Democratic National Conventions

This page hosts the our Guide to Reporting at the 2012 Republican and Democratic National Conventions, and related resources

More than ten thousand journalists are expected to attend the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in Tampa and Charlotte in the late summer of 2012. A complicated array of laws will be enforced at these events by federal officers, state and local law enforcement, and private security. This Guide is intended to provide detailed information about how the law will apply to those trying to gather news at the events surrounding the conventions.

We'll be posting updates here as events develop. For more, be sure to visit the following resources:

Update Aug. 31, 9:30am

We are happy to report that – despite an overwhelming police presence and scattered reports of police intimidation – the major events surrounding the RNC have concluded without any arrests of journalists, and only two (or possibly three) arrests of other members of the public. It is very important to note, however, that at several points throughout the week the actions of some protesters gave grounds for arrest, but the Tampa Police exercised their discretion and allowed the demonstrations to continue. We applaud the City of Tampa for acting so thoughtfully during the RNC and hope that the police in Charlotte will adopt a similar strategy. Nevertheless, journalists preparing to travel to the DNC should be aware that the City of Charlotte may decide to respond differently when facing similar situations.

Take some time over the weekend to review our guide's sections on Charlotte law. Some particular points to keep in mind:

  • Charlotte maintains a different list of prohibited items, and special concerns arise for those planning to carry backpacks, satchels, or coolers. (See pages 8-9.)
  • Courts with jurisdiction over Charlotte have yet to articulate a constitutional right to record the police. (Page 37.) Accordingly, when recording police activity, expect North Carolina's wiretapping and privacy laws (see pages 33, 36) to apply.
  • Ordinances in Charlotte also afford the government far wider discretion as to when an assembly permit is required (page 21) and when a public park may be closed (page 23), empowering the police to disperse a wider array of gatherings should they choose to do so. (And recall that failure to adhere to an order to disperse, even as a journalist, gives the police grounds for arrest under North Carolina law. See page 28.)
  • Finally, note that much of the open space in and around uptown Charlotte is actually privately-owned land, and private landowners generally have the right to remove members of the public from their land at their discretion. (Page 24.)

Update Aug. 29, 4:00pm

The CMLP has heard scattered reports from Tampa of police approaching journalists and requesting that they identify themselves. As we note in the our guide (see page 42), you may or may not be able to refuse such a request. The police are generally allowed to ask a person to voluntarily provide such information, though when the request is voluntary persons are free to refuse. (This Florida case addresses voluntary requests.) On the other hand, a Florida statute also allows the police to temporarily detain a person for purposes of ascertaining the person's identity, but only when the officer reasonably suspects that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. This is a compelled identification, and refusal to comply may result in one's arrest.

Be aware that it may not always be clear in the moment whether an officer's request to produce identification is being made under Florida's "stop and identify" law (thus necessitating compliance) or is a voluntary request. If you are uncertain, politely ask the officer for clarification. (For example, you may consider asking "Am I free to refuse?" in response to the request.) You may wish to take that opportunity to present a press credential or identify yourself as a member of the working press.

Update Aug. 27, 8:45am

Several RNC event changes should be noted in light of Tropical Storm Isaac.

As has been reported throughout the weekend, the RNC is cancelling all formal convention events today. Severe weather also has the potential to impact the parade and public assemblies permitted to take place. According to Section 5 of the RNC event ordinance (City of Tampa Ordinance No. 2012-56) any public gathering "may be terminated immediately" by the City of Tampa Parks and Recreation Director due to "severe weather," defined as the forecasting or occurrence of a weather event that requires "the National Weather Service to issue a severe weather watch or warning."

The National Weather Service has issued a tropical storm warning for Hillsborough County. This empowers, but does not require, the City of Tampa Parks and Recreation Director to cancel permitted parades and assemblies. As of the time of writing, the City of Tampa Joint Information Center has indicated that the Coalition to March on the RNC parade will continue as planned this afternoon. The city has not indicated through any public releases that they plan to revoke the assembly permits issued for public gatherings.

In addition to preparing for exposure to severe weather, journalists should keep in mind that the city may decide at a later time to revoke permits for these events based on the weather. Gatherings of more than 50 persons that still choose to assemble or march without a permit would likely do so in violation of the city's ordinances (see our guide, pages 19-21). This may result in the police ordering those gathered to disperse or face arrest for unlawful assembly. Failure to adhere to such an order to disperse, even as a journalist, may result in arrest. (For more, see our guide, pages 26-28.)


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