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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014

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In Movies & TV Commentary

An Al Jazeera America crew is hit with tear gas as they cover riots following the police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

Al Jazeera America deserves same freedoms granted to all press


If you've been following the news out of Ferguson, Mo., then you know the coverage following the police shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown has become an incident in its own right. Rioting in the streets and the attempts by the local law enforcement authorities to maintain control will need to be investigated, too.

Al Jazeera America will present live coverage from Ferguson through the weekend with news updates and analysis. That in itself isn't beyond the scope of any national or international news outlet would deliver. But for Al Jazeera it became a bigger story when those covering the news became part of it.

Al Jazeera America issued a statement after its journalists were shot at by police with rubber bullets and tear-gas canisters. Kate O'Brian, the president of Al Jazeera America, offered this:

"(Wednesday) night at 10:30 p.m. CDT in Ferguson, Mo., an Al Jazeera America news crew was reporting behind police barricades. They were easily identifiable as a working television crew. As they were setting up their camera for a live report, tear gas canisters landed in their proximity and police fired rubber bullets in their direction.

"Police continued to shoot after crew members clearly and repeatedly shouted 'Press.'

"Al Jazeera America is stunned by this egregious assault on freedom of the press that was clearly intended to have a chilling effect on our ability to cover this important story. Thankfully all three crew members are physically fine.

"We believe that this situation must be investigated along with those involving our colleagues at other media outlets."

Ash-har Quraishi, chief correspondent for Al Jazeera America at the channel's Chicago Bureau, told Al Jazeera America's Del Walters:

"We were very surprised by this, we had been there for about an hour. We had been in contact with police officers who were just feet away from us. I had spoken to police officers who knew we were there. We had had discussions with them. We understood this was as far as we could get in terms of where the protest was going on, about a mile up the road. So, we didn't think there would be any problems here so we were very surprised.

"We were very close to where those [tear gas] canisters were shot from. We yelled, as you heard there [on the video]. We were yelling that we were press. But they continued to fire. We retreated about half a block into the neighborhood, until we could get out of that situation.

"Police have said that protestors tossed Molotov cocktails in their direction. We didn't see that because we weren't close enough in. Again, as you mentioned, we didn't have gas masks because we were about a mile away …

"We thought we were at a safe distance but clearly, they pushed through and actually fired [tear gas] canisters into the neighborhood."

Covering the news can get a little out of hand during situations like this. I remember seeing video of one of my photography friends at the Journal Sentinel being arrested by Milwaukee police a few years ago. She clearly was working as a member of the press with multiple cameras around her neck as well as press credentials. After being detained, she was released without charges.

There is a freedom of the press in this country, but that comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility by the press themselves. If the press is working to relay information, like the crew at Al Jazeera clearly was, being bombarded with less-than-lethal force can hold them back from doing their jobs.

If those that have the responsibility of power to serve and protect cross that line, and are not held responsible for their actions, then we are quickly sliding down the slope. If that happens, then it is a slap in the face of those men and women who sacrificed and went to war to protect our freedoms.

Let's hope that clearer minds prevail here, that justice can be handed down, and those basic freedoms are granted to everyone.

Al Jazeera America's "The Stream" will be airing a special show covering the Ferguson case, and the events that followed at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday.

Al Jazeera America's "America Tonight" will do a special live broadcast from The Newseum in Washington, D.C. at 6 p.m. on Sunday "Flashpoint: Ferguson." As part of the network's coverage "America Tonight's" Joie Chen will host the program, providing reports from Al Jazeera America correspondent Natasha Ghoneim and Ash-har Quraishi, correspondent for Al Jazeera America's Chicago bureau, who will both be in Ferguson.

Al Jazeera America is on Time Warner channel 376, AT&T channel 1219 in HD and 219 in SD.

EYE ON THE SKY: Fox Business Network's Liz Claman will host a one-week special report on "Countdown to the Closing Bell" called "Rise of the Drones" starting on Monday. The series will explore the rise of the drone industry and its impact on business and investing. Claman will interview a variety of guests from startups to established players in the rapidly growing drone business.

Guests for the 2 p.m. reports include: Colin Guinn, senior vice president of 3D Robotics; Tom Conver, CEO of Aerovironment; Earnest Earon, president and co-founder of PrescisionHawk; Ellen Lord, CEO and president of Textron Systems and Dave Kroetsch, CEO of Aeryon Labs.

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