The media world was atwitter yesterday with reports of at least six journalists arrested, and many more restrained from covering the police sweep of protesters in Zuccotti Park.
Among those arrested were New York Daily News reporter Matthew Lysiak, Julie Walker, a freelance reporter for National Public Radio, and reporter Karen Matthews and photographer Seth Wenig, who both work for the AP. Also pinched were Paul Lomax, a freelance photographer for DNA Info and the website’s news editor Patrick Hedlund.
“The police were trying to suppress coverage,” by keeping reporters blocks away from the park, New York Times reporter Brian Stelter explained to Times columnist David Carr in an internet video.
At a news conference yesterday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the NYPD, saying it took action “to prevent a situation from getting worse and to protect members of the press.”
That explanation didn’t fly with the media. Cops asked credentialed journalists to identify themselves and those that did, thinking they would then get to cover the confrontation, were instead herded far away so they couldn’t see what was taking place, explained Mickey Osterreicher, counsel for the National Press Photographers Association.
“This is truly in its purest form prior restraint,” said Osterreicher. “If you are not free to gather the news, how can you disseminate it?” he asked.
Osterreicher said he was preparing a statement to give to city officials protesting the NYPD’s treatment of journalists, “but based on prior experience, I’m sure it will fall on deaf ears.” He and others are also contemplating various legal actions, he added.
Police interference with the press become so common nationally that the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press counsels journalists covering demonstrations and conventions to keep a photo ID, their editors’ phone numbers and at least a $100 in their pocket so they can quickly resume their work in the event they are arrested or ticketed, said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the organization.
Legally, journalists have no more rights to disobey a police order "even if it's a crap order" than ordinary citizens, but in practice, they are sometimes singled out for special harassment or abuse when police resent the documentation of their actions, said Dalglish.
“It’s an outrage that journalists should not be able to document what happens at major news events, but cops are now far less likely to spend time parsing out and inspecting their credentials,” Dalglish said.
In the age of the cell phone-armed citizen journalist, of course, it is almost impossible for any event to go unreported. And where there’s a will to share a story in the age of Twitter, there is an increasing plethora of ways to convey the message, noted Carlos Lauria, senior coordinator for the Americas at the Committee to Protect Journalists.
“We’re in the age of social media – they were still tweeting even while they were detained,” noted Lauria.