PLATFORM : Public Watchdog

JONATHAN KOTLER is an associate professor of journalism at USC and legal counsel to the California First Amendment Coalition, which takes positions on issues relating to freedom of the press:

Local law-enforcement officials have subpoenaed photographs and videotapes taken by various members of the Los Angeles media during the riots. Certainly, the stated purpose behind this maneuver was noble--to help prosecutors find the looters and arsonists who had done their best to lay waste to our city.

As our forefathers recognized centuries ago, freedom without independence is of little value. If the use of subpoenas is upheld by the courts in this case, the ability of reporters to tell us what we need to know would be impaired and some might begin to consider the press to be an arm of government--particularly law enforcement.

As the events of recent days have shown, a trusted, neutral and independent press can go where no one else--not even our police--dare. But if reporters are unwillingly transformed into the "eyes and ears" of law enforcement, they will become targets themselves--unarmed, untrusted and unable to play their traditional role as society's watchdog and chronicler.

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