Oct. 11, 2014  

SPJ Florida aids a freelance reporter’s rights

A Georgia politician with a questionable history is refusing to answer questions — and is trying to silence one of the dogged reporters asking them.

This week, DeKalb county commission candidate Thomas Owens sought a restraining order against a freelancer named George Chidi. Chidi had raised questions about Owens’ history, including stalking an ex-fiancée  and an alleged death threat against a Muslim church leader.

Now Owens is flipping the script, accusing Chidi of making death threats and stalking. And DeKalb County Magistrate Judge Nora Polk is taking his side, granting a protective order that prohibits Chidi from contacting Owens or being within 100 yards of him. Chidi has been told he violated that order by “contacting third parties via social media.”

The national organization of the Society of Professional Journalists has condemned Owens’ actions, and our neighboring chapter SPJ Georgia is offering assistance to Chidi. SPJ Florida is chipping in to help chapter representatives drive across the state and attend his upcoming court hearing.

“While George Chidi is not from our service area, we uphold SPJ’s mission to zealously guard freedom of the press,” SPJ Florida president Brandon Ballenger said. “We’re doing our part to ensure a climate where journalism can be practiced freely, in and around Florida.”

“We don’t want our own politicians getting any ideas from Owens,” he added.

The Society of Professional Journalists maintains a legal defense fund for situations like this, as does our local chapter. We encourage supporters of the First Amendment to donate to one or both, and to seek assistance as needed.

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