Reporters Without Borders voiced amazement today that Chuck Laszewski and Rick Linsk, two reporters with the Saint Paul Pioneer Press, a Saint-Paul (Minnesota) daily, were suspended from work for three days for attending an anti-Bush "Vote for change" concert on 5 October.
"We are astonished at such a heavy sanction for journalists who attended a concert in their own free time and who are now going to lose three days’ pay," the organisation said.
On 27 September, a week before the concert, editor Vicky Gowler circulated a memo to staff saying the newspaper’s ethics banned certain employees from pursuing activities that could conflict with their profession. The memo mentioned in particular a ban on attending political fundraising concerts.
Reached by Reporters Without Borders, Laszewski said he felt the memo did not concern him because he belongs to a team of investigative journalists and the memo was addressed to political reporters and staff working weekends. He also stressed that he went to a concert and not a political rally and that he has always paid great attention to professional ethics and had himself campaigned for the creation of an ethics committee within the newspaper in 2000.
Gowler meanwhile was sticking to her position. She argues that investigative journalists can be required to work weekends and cover politics. The journalists’ union, the Newspaper Guild, is contesting the sanctions and has called for arbitration.
Many newspapers throughout the United States have banned staff from attending this type of concert but, to our knowledge, this is the first time anyone has been sanctioned.