Josh Stearns, November 18, 2011

This was a bad week for press freedom in America. Thirteen journalists covering Occupy Wall Street have been arrested in New York City and numerous others were roughed up, blocked from accessing the protests or threatened by police. Reports suggest that police have used strobe lights to blind cameras, and demanded to have local TV news helicopters grounded during raids on Occupy Wall Street.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there was a coordinated effort to keep journalists away from the protest to “prevent a situation from getting worse and to protect” the press.

Just hours after the bulk of the arrests on Tuesday, we launched a new campaign to demand that mayors across the U.S. protect the First Amendment and rein in these attacks on journalists. Within days more than 24,000 people added their names to this effort.

The larger journalism community has also responded in a unified voice, calling for an end to this kind of press suppression.

Below is a sampling of responses:

The Society of Professional Journalists

“SPJ calls for all charges against these journalists to be dropped and for greater care by police to avoid arresting or otherwise obstructing journalists who are simply and clearly doing their jobs.

In these recent instances, the journalists were either wearing press credentials or explained to police that they were reporters covering the protests. They were clearly exercising the constitutional right of a free press.

‘We know that as protests escalate it may be difficult for police to distinguish bystanders from participants, but it is clear now that many journalists have been erroneously arrested without cause,’ SPJ President John Ensslin said. ‘These errors must be rectified immediately.’”

The National Press Photographers Association

“NPPA demands that all charges against these journalists be dropped and that police officials instruct their officers to exercise common sense and restraint when dealing with journalists who are doing nothing more than gathering the news so as to better inform the public. …

‘It is extremely disturbing that photographers who put themselves in harm’s way while covering the news should be the targets of harassment and arrest by police for no other reason than the exercise of their First Amendment rights,’ Osterreicher said.

Claims by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that journalists were being kept away from the activity for their own safety ‘are disingenuous at best and at worst, a thinly veiled attempt at prior restraint of the news media,’ said NPPA president Sean D. Elliot.”

Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

From the Huffington Post: “A human rights office for the Americas on Thursday criticized the arrest and assault of journalists during Occupy Wall Street protests in New York and other U.S. cities in recent weeks.

The Washington-based Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called for authorities to guarantee and protect the practice of journalism at public demonstrations.”

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

“The singling out of credentialed journalists in an attempt to separate them from the news events unfolding at the police disbanding of the Occupy Wall Street protests is outrageous and unacceptable, according to Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish.

‘It’s extremely disturbing that credentialed reporters would be singled out in a roundup aimed at preventing them from witnessing police activity at the disbanding of the Occupy Wall Street camp,’ Dalglish said. ‘What country are we living in?’”

The Committee to Protect Journalists

“‘We are alarmed by New York law enforcement's treatment of journalists covering the eviction of Occupy Wall Street today,’ said Carlos Lauria, CPJ senior coordinator for the Americas. ‘Journalists must be allowed to cover news events without fear of arrest and harassment. It is particularly disturbing that government officials sought to block any coverage of the event at all.’”

Reporters Without Borders

“‘Wherever it takes place, each tale has something in common,’ Reporters Without Borders said. ‘In all the cases brought to our attention, the persons concerned said they had identified themselves as journalists to the police, but to no avail. The attitude of law-enforcement officers supports the theory that not only the movement itself but also coverage of Occupy Wall Street is being obstructed. Are they doing everything possible to suppress news in which the public is clearly very interested? If so, the First Amendment has become a dead letter.

‘The other question is the very variable nature of the charges — sometimes maintained, sometimes dropped — that are brought against these people for ‘offenses’ that are essentially identical. In the name of the constitutionally enshrined right to receive and impart news and information, we call on the courts to dismiss all the charges against individuals who have been covering these demonstrations peacefully.’”


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