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Shop Talk is a weekly panel discussion about journalism issues. This week’s program featured Will Buss, who teaches in the Department of Broadcasting and Journalism at Western Illinois University and advises the student editors at the Western Courier, the students at student radio station The Dog, and the WIU chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists; Rajvee Subramanian, who teaches in the Department of Broadcasting and Journalism at Western Illinois University; and TSPR News Director Rich Egger.

Peoria Learns Costly Lesson about Parody & Free Speech

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Last year, Jon Daniel of Peoria had his home raided, his property seized, and he was arrested after creating a Twitter account that spoofed the city's mayor.  Legal action ensued, and last week it was announced Daniel will be awarded a $125,000 cash settlement.

In addition, a directive from the City to the Peoria Police Department will make clear that parody and satire are not reasons for a criminal investigation.

The American Civil Liberties Union said, “This settlement marks an enormous victory for free speech, emphasizing our First Amendment protections for online speech and parody. We hope that this agreement will send a strong message that wrongful use of police power to suppress protected speech, even when it is critical or makes fun of public officials, is an abuse of power and is not acceptable.”

The Shop Talk panelists agree the city overstepped its authority. 

Jonathan Ahl said the Tweets made on Daniel’s parody account were not funny and were, in fact, horrific.  He called them “stupid and unproductive.”  But Ahl added Daniel still had a right to attempt to satirize someone who’s in the public eye.

Jasmine Crighton thinks the city would have ended up paying much more had it not settled out of court.  She agreed people in the public eye have to learn to ignore mean-spirited comments and parodies.  She said TV anchors and reporters – especially women – are often subjected to such remarks.

Rich Egger said the Shop Talk panel criticized the city’s actions when news of the raid came out and nothing since then has changed his mind.  Like it or not, those in public office are occasionally subjected to snarky remarks.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.