Roundup: Treatment of reporters at NYC Occupy raid

Kirsten Berg | Newsgathering | Feature | November 17, 2011

New York City police are facing tough criticism for their treatment of reporters covering Tuesday's overnight raid of the Zuccotti Park base of the Occupy Wall Street movement for what some journalists are calling and hashtagging a “media blackout.”

According to reports by the Associated Press, at least half a dozen journalists, including NYPD-credentialed reporters, were arrested in and around the early-morning eviction: an AP reporter, an AP photographer, a New York Daily News reporter, a freelancer for NPR, a blogger for at The New York Times’ Local East Village, a Vanity Fair correspondent, a news editor for DNAinfo.com and a number of freelancers.

Others reported that police pushed journalists back and even roughed them up to keep journalists from getting close to the raid on Zuccotti Park, where police arrested about 200 protestors under orders from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to clear the encampment for health and safety reasons.

The behavior of authorities toward the media set off a flurry of defense and condemnation as some press advocates questioned if the police were deliberately stifling coverage of the operation.

Here were some of the official reactions:

  • "The police department routinely keeps members of the press off to the side when they're in the middle of a police action. It's to prevent the situation from getting worse and it's to protect the members of the press."

-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, quoted by the Associated Press

  • "In the case of protests, the appearance of the media -- nothing deliberate on the part of the media itself -- will have a tendency to escalate the protests. So it becomes a question of safety when it comes to positioning the media in a place where they are not increasing the problem or increasing the risk for themselves. . . . there are certainly and legitimately restrictions on where the media can go, and that does not constitute a media blackout."

- International Union of Police Associations spokesperson Rich Roberts

  • "The actions of some police officers were not consistent with the long-established relationship between the NYPD and the press. The brash manner in which officers ordered reporters off the streets and then made them back off until the actions of the police were almost invisible is outrageous."

-New York Press Club President Gabe Pressman, writing in a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly asking them to investigate the incidents and make assurances that "it won't happen again." Pressman, in his analysis of police action, said the eviction was the right decision, but the press was treated unfairly.

  • “American foreign correspondents routinely put themselves in harm's way to do their jobs, in some of the most brutal dictatorships in the world. And their NYC colleagues deserve the freedom to make the same choice. Zuccotti Park is not Tiananmen Square.”

-Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer in a statement Tuesday.

  • "[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."

-National Press Photographers Association Sean D. Elliot in a press release condemning the "targeting of journalists" at Occupy Wall Street.

  • "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 Society of Professional Journalists, in a press release condemning the arrests of journalists at Occupy protests

  • "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."

-Carlos Lauria, senior coordinator for the Americas, Committee to Protect Journalists

  • "Swooping in, deliberately when no one is around, and then depriving the news media of access to information is entirely unacceptable. . . . When police are engaging in behavior that they don’t want the public to know about, journalists are a prime target."

    -New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman, quoted by DNAinfo.com

  • "In relation to AP staff being taken into custody at the Occupy Wall Street story, we’ve had a breakdown in staff sticking to policies around social media and everyone needs to get with their folks now to tell them to knock it off. We have had staff tweet – BEFORE THE MATERIAL WAS ON THE WIRE – that staff were arrested."

-The Associated Press in an email memo to staff. AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll has since clarified the memo, which her colleague Lou Ferrara reportedly sent, saying that the memo was sent to ensure the “safety and well being of our people” and that reporters should not be putting anything out before they have a clear understanding of what is going on, according to Poynter.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press also issued a statement about the detention of credentialed journalists at the protests, which can be read here.