Okay, first off, we thought of leading with a headline with something like this:
MSM bosses furious their reporters
treated like blacks, browns, Muslims
Because, let’s face it, the treatment dealt out to the star reporters of the corporate media aren’t much different from the way minorities are often treated by police.
That said, we’re glad the media bosses are righteously and rightfully angry at the way their reporters have been beaten, abused, and arrested while covering the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
And they’ve expressed their outrage in a letter to the Deputy New York Police Commissioner in charge of media relations.
Joining them in their outrage are the New York Civil Liberties Union [NYCLU] and a newly formed organization, the Coalition for the First Amendment.
We bring you the texts of the letters and the first statement by the new coalition, via the NYCLU website.
Letter from mainstream media organizations
From George Freeman, vice president and assistant general counsel of the New York Times Company to NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Paul J. Browne, the document is posted online here [PDF].
Dear Deputy Commissioner Browne,
The signatories below wish to express their profound displeasure, disappointment and concern over the recent actions taken against the media during the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations near and around Zuccotti Park. Over the past few months we have tried to work with DCPI to improve police-press relations. However, if anything, the police actions of last week have been more hostile to the press than any other event in recent memory. Indeed, in vivid contrast to the spirit and substance of our meeting in August, the credentialed press were targeted and subject to increased scrutiny and greater restrictions than members of the general public.
According to reports from our clients, credentialed media were identified, segregated and kept away from viewing, reporting on and photographing vital matters of public concern. A press pen was set up blocks away and those kept there were further prevented from seeing what was occurring by the strategic placement of police buses around the perimeter. Moreover, there have been numerous instances where police officers struck or otherwise intentionally impeded photographers as they were taking photos, keeping them from doing their job and from documenting instances of seeming police aggression.
The following are but a few of many examples of police behavior that clearly violates NYPD policies and procedures as concerns the media. Upon request we will provide many other similar examples of police overreaching their authority.
- On 11/15 during the “eviction” of Zuccotti Park, a member of DCPI called out to all members of the press. He asked “who had credentials?” and then instructed those who did to leave the park immediately or be subject to arrest. At this point there were several hundred people and police officers inside the park. After making his announcement a Community Affairs member grabbed one newspaper photographer and dragged him from the park. At the same time this Community Affairs officer also threatened to arrest another credentialed photographer for being inside the park.
- A female photographer, who was carrying clearly visible DCPI-issued press credentials, was taking photos of protestors near the corner of Pine and Williams Streets about 9AM on 11/17/2001. At one point, an officer (recognizing that she was a member of the media) advised her to move to the sidewalk to avoid being caught up in the police action. As she moved towards the sidewalk, another officer told her to move to the sidewalk on the other side of the road. A short time later, before she got to any sidewalk, she was grabbed by a third officer and thrown to the ground, hitting her head on the pavement.
- A female reporter, also displaying DCPI-issued press credentials, was standing with a group of photographers at a barricade on Cedar Street, between Broadway and Trinity Place, about 12 PM on 11/17/2011 when a group of police officers moved towards them and started pushing the group back. One officer, described by the reporter as very tall (approximately 6’5″), shoved the reporter with both his arms, forcing the reporter to fall backwards, landing on her right elbow, and resulting in her yelling in pain. The reporter said the officer then proceeded to pick her up by the collar while yelling “stop pretending.” The reporter went to Bellevue Hospital for treatment of her injuries.
- Another incident occurred that same day near the west end of the park where a photographer, standing on the sidewalk on Trinity Place, was photographing a man the police were carrying from somewhere in the park who was covered in blood. The photographer was standing behind a metal barrier 20 to 30 yards from the scene. As he raised his camera to take a picture two other police officers came running toward him, grabbed a metal barrier and forcefully lunged at him striking the photographer in the chest, knees and shin. As they did that they screamed that he was not permitted to be taking pictures on the sidewalk — the most traditionally recognized public forum aside from a park.
- There are numerous other reports of DCPI-issued credentials being seized from reporters and photographers, others being interfered with, detained and arrested. That they were never formally charged still does not mitigate the fact that their detention prevented them from carrying out their journalistic functions.
During our August meeting you promised to review our complaints regarding certain incidents that were provided to you in writing. You also agreed that additional training to reinforce media guidelines, for newer officers on the force, would be beneficial. In order to avoid verbal discrepancies over DCPI-Press issues you requested that both you and Lt. Whyte be immediately notified by email of any future incidents. Our first attempt to follow that procedure during Hurricane Irene was met with silence. Despite three followup letters there has been no action on your part — not even the courtesy of a reply. We firmly believe that had such agreed upon training occurred, it may have helped avoid the numerous inappropriate, if not unconstitutional, actions and abuses the police heaped upon both credentialed and non-credentialed journalists in the last few days.
Therefore, we request an immediate meeting with you and Police Commissioner Kelly so that we may have full and frank discussions in order to resolve these issues and prevent further deterioration of the police-press relationship which is so critical to an informed public.
Thank you for your attention in this matter, I look forward to receiving your timely response.
Very truly yours,
Michael Cameron, The New York Post
George Osterreicher, National Press Photographers Association [NPPA]
Anne B. Carroll, The Daily News
Shmuel Bulka, Thomson Reuters
Karen Kaiser, Associated Press
Townsend Davis, WABC
Steve Chung, NBC Universal WNBC
Nicholas E. Poser, WCBS-TV
Lucy Dalglish, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Gabe Pressman, The New York Press Club
The letter from the Civil Liberties Union
Here’s the text of the letter from the NYCLU sent to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and posted online here [PDF].
Re: NYPD Mistreatment of Journalists
Dear Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly:
On behalf of the New York Civil Liberties Union, we write in conjunction with the letter sent today by major media organizations to NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne objecting to the serious mistreatment of j ournalists seeking to cover the policing of the Occupy Wall Street protests. We believe the Mayor’s Office must become directly involved in this matter, given the serious First Amendment issues raised by the media organizations and given the Police Department’s failure to address those issues since learning of them many months ago, We therefore request that Mayor Bloomberg convene a meeting with the media organizations, Commissioner Kelly and Mr. Browne, and the NYCLU.
As you undoubtedly are aware, there have been many public accounts of reporters, photographers, and other journalists being mistreated and subjected to physical force during OWS protests and further of over 25 journalists being arrested, We also have received many direct reports from journalists describing mistreatment that parallels the mistreatment outlined in the letter from the media organizations. (We enclose a copy of their letter.) Because these actions strike at the heart of the First Amendment’s protections of freedom of the press, the NYCLU has been particularly alarmed by these accounts.
As an initial matter, we are deeply concerned about the “media blackout” imposed by the NYPD that effectively blocked first-hand reporting of the forcible eviction of protesters from Zuccotti Park last week. Journalists who were already in the park were forced to leave under threat of arrest, while others, even those with NYPD-issued press credentials, were blocked by barricades and forced to remain at least one block away from the park in every direction. Two journalists we spoke with convinced police to let them past barricades to within a block of Zuccotti Park, only to be subsequently threatened with arrest if they did not leave the area. When one attempted to remain south of Cortlandt Street on Broadway, he was told, “I don’t give a fuck who you are – you wasted your chance” and was pushed to the ground by an NYPD officer. When journalists told police that they were journalists, the officers repeatedly said they did not care. One officer told a photographer, “Not tonight,” and another told a photographer, “Jesus, you press guys … you’re keeping us from doing our jobs.” That photographer also reported having his NYPD-issued press credential yanked from around his neck by the police for attempting to remain in Zuccotti Park to document the eviction. In addition, NYPD officials reportedly told Brookfield security guards not to let journalists into the lobby of One Liberty Plaza, and the city reportedly closed airspace over the area to prevent news helicopters from documenting the police actions.
Beyond preventing journalists from documenting the actions of the police, numerous journalists were arrested and subjected to physical force by NYPD officers during and after the eviction. We have heard numerous stories ofNYPD officers liberally using force against both journalists and others. There seemed to be no supervisors in some of the areas, and officers gave the impression of “a blue-shirt free-far-all,” in which they did not know what they were supposed to be doing and instead improvised aggressively. One photographer we spoke with was struck with a police baton on his arm and his camera lens, resulting in a bruise and in severe damage to the lens. Another report was struck in the shoulder with a baton immediately after telling the officer that she was a journalist. Several other journalists we spoke with were shoved by police, including onto the ground, despite having done all they could to comply with the officers’ instructions.
One particularly troubling location was Broadway on the few blocks north of the park, The crowd on the sidewalk of Broadway near Cortlandt Street was pushed northward by a line of police into another line of police to the north of them, making it impossible for them to comply with shouted police orders to continue moving or to get off of the narrow sidewalk. One cameraman we spoke with had purposely remained in the back of the crowd in order to avoid getting arrested, but while he was trapped between the two police lines and scaffolding on the Broadway sidewalk, officers from the north line grabbed him and arrested him, despite his shouts of “I’m a journalist !” Video footage demonstrates that he and others who were arrested had no way to disperse.
In light of the Mayor’s repeated expressions of support for the First Amendment – expressions that we of course commend — we have no doubt that these accounts will be a source of serious concern. We fully understand that being a journalist, whether with a DCPI credential or otherwise, does not allow anyone to engage in unlawful activity or to be immune from appropriate police orders. But the numerous reports we have received and have learned of make clear to us that the NYPD is aggressively blocking journalists from doing their constitutionally protected work and in some instances is even targeting journalists for mistreatment. That this has happened during this nationally important protest is all the more disturbing.
We therefore request a meeting to address these concerns as soon as possible. If you or
members of your staff have any questions about our request, please let us know.
Christopher Dunn, Associate Legal Director
Arthur Eisenberg, Legal Director
c: Paul Browne, Deputy Commissioner for Public Information
Michael Cardozo, Corporation Counsel
The statement from the new media coalition
From the website of the New York Press Club.
Coalition Formed to Monitor Police / Press Relations in NYC
Organizations representing journalists in New York City have announced the formation of the Coalition for the First Amendment to monitor relations between the NYPD and the press.
In a joint statement, the groups declared:
“When New York City police evicted “Occupy Wall Street” protesters from Zuccotti Park in the early hours of Tuesday, November 15th, more than 20 journalists were arrested and several were injured. In what appeared to be a planned maneuver, police officers forced reporters and photographers so far away from Zuccotti Park that they could not see what was happening. They roughed up people who were trying to fulfill their duty to report the news.
“We have formed this coalition to monitor police actions. What the police did on November 15th to suppress coverage of their activities was intolerable. We are determined to use any means needed to fight such censorship in the future. In the city in which John Peter Zenger fought for and helped establish freedom of the press, we can do no less.”
Organizations that have joined the Coalition for the First Amendment include:
Deadline Club & Foundation
New York City Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists
National Press Photographers Association
Newspaper Guild of New York
News Media Guild
New York Press Club & Foundation
Newswomen’s Club of New York
New York Press Photographers Association
Society of Silurians