Journalists protest treatment by police at ‘Occupy’ protests

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

NEW YORK — News organizations sent letters yesterday to city officials complaining about the police handling of journalists covering the Occupy Wall Street protests and called for meetings to address their concerns.

They said New York police blocked journalists from seeing when authorities cleared out the Occupy camp in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park last week and said police officers used force and arrested some journalists as they were trying to do their jobs.

“The police actions of last week have been more hostile to the press than any other event in recent memory,” a coalition of news organizations and journalist groups said in a letter to chief New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne.

The New York Civil Liberties Union sent another letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, covering similar ground.

“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 letter said.

When police cleared out the Occupy camp in Zuccotti Park last week in an overnight raid, journalists were kept at a distance, and several were arrested along with the protesters there and at other sites later in the day.

Bloomberg, an independent, has defended the NYPD’s policy of keeping the press back, saying it was intended to keep journalists out of harm’s way.

“The police department routinely keeps members of the press off to the side when they’re in the middle of a police action,” he said last week. “It’s to prevent the situation from getting worse, and it’s to protect the members of the press.”

The news groups, in their letter, cited numerous examples, including an officer grabbing a photographer and dragging him from the park and another pushing a reporter, who fell on the ground. They called for a meeting “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.”

Signers of the letter included representatives of the Associated Press; New York Times; New York Post; Daily News; Dow Jones; Thomson Reuters; NBC Universal and WNBC-TV; WABC-TV; WCBS-TV; National Press Photographers Association; New York Press Photographers Association; New York Press Club and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

In an e-mail, police spokesman Browne said, “We’ve worked together in the past to iron out misunderstandings, and I’m happy to do so again.”

The mayor’s office referred comment to the NYPD.

A number of journalist groups announced yesterday that a coalition to monitor police-media relations had been created.

“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,” the group said. “They roughed up people who were trying to fulfill their duty to report the news.”

It said what the police did on Nov. 15 “to suppress coverage of their activities was intolerable” and it was “determined to use any means needed to fight such censorship in the future.”

Members of the coalition include the Deadline Club, which is the New York City chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists; Deadline Club Foundation; Newspaper Guild of New York; News Media Guild; New York Press Club; New York Press Club Foundation; Newswomen’s Club of New York; New York Press Photographers Association; National Press Photographers Association; and Society of Silurians.

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