Multi-media journalists face jail time after reporting on North Dakota pipeline protest

Investigative reporter and co-founder of Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman, is now facing riot charges in the state of North Dakota after her report on a Native American-led pipeline protest there went viral on Facebook.

Democracy Now! issued a statement about the new charges against Goodman late Saturday.

The news organization, which spun out of WBAI-FM, creates programming which is syndicated via radio, podcasts, cable television, public access television, live streams and Web downloads.

Goodman’s story, posted to Facebook on September 4th, has been viewed more than 14 million times on the social media platform, Democracy Now! said, and was picked up by mainstream media outlets and networks including CBS, NBC, NPR, CNN, MSNBC and The Huffington Post (a site owned by TechCrunch’s parent company Verizon).

Additionally, documentary filmmaker Deia Schlosberg, is facing felony and conspiracy charges that could carry a 45-year sentence for filming at another pipeline protest in the state, IndieWire reports.

Edward Snowden noted Schlosberg’s predicament on Friday with a tweet that said, “This reporter is being prosecuted for covering the North Dakota oil protests. For reference, I face a mere 30 years.”

Authorities released Schlosberg, who also runs a production studio called Pale Blue Dot Media, after originally detaining her but they confiscated her footage and refused to release it according to public tweets from Josh Fox, a fellow filmmaker.

For those unfamiliar with the pipeline protests, the Standing Rock Sioux are seeking to halt the construction of a $3.8 billion pipeline saying its development will encroach on their tribal burial sites and taint their water supply at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

And environmentalists in a group called Climate Direct Action are seeking to stop the movement of tar sands from Canada into the U.S. via a pipeline operated by TransCanada in Wallhalla, North Dakota. Schlosberg was filming the activists as they interfered with normal operations of the pipeline’s valves.

The demonstrations in North Dakota have been ongoing for months. Native American advocates and environmentalists have protested the pipeline’s development in other cities and states, as well.

On October 10th, witnesses at a rally in Reno, Nevada captured footage of a pickup truck plowing into a group of activists protesting the pipeline’s development, and calling for Columbus Day to be changed to Indigenous Peoples’ Day in their state.

Several posted their footage and thoughts about the apparent attack on Facebook as well. The Reno incident injured five and sent one to the hospital. The rally was organized by the American Indian Movement of Northern Nevada (AIMNN).

It remains to be seen whether the charges against Goodman, Schlosberg and other journalists covering the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access pipeline will stick.

But these cases highlight the increasing power, and risks, associated with online distribution for news stories covered by independents, and earlier missed by mainstream networks. Virality and independence, it seems, can attract prosecutorial ire.


Updates: A paragraph was added to this post to reflect the fact that the two journalists, Amy Goodman and Deia Schlosberg, were reporting on different pipeline protests within the state of North Dakota.