U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

AP photographer ordered to delete photos, leave Liberty University campus

Incident Details

March 24, 2020

An Associated Press photographer covering Liberty University’s decision to remain partially open during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic was ordered to delete photos and leave the campus in Lynchburg, Virginia, by a security officer on March 24, 2020.

According to the AP, its photographer was approached by a campus security officer who told him to delete all of the photos he had taken while on campus and leave. The photojournalist, who was not identified by the news organization, consulted with his supervisor about the images after being forced off-campus. The photos were deleted, which the AP said was a mistake in retrospect.

“We don’t delete photos or any other material at the request of an individual law enforcement officer,” said Sally Buzbee, then the AP’s executive editor and senior vice president. “We try to fight such orders legally.”

The president of Liberty University, Jerry Falwell, sought trespassing charges against a ProPublica reporter and a freelance photographer hired by The New York Times who had pursued similar stories about Liberty’s pandemic responses. Charges against the journalists were eventually dropped.

Neither the AP nor Liberty University responded to requests for comment from the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].