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Journalists contest Chicago fingerprinting regulations

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  1. Newsgathering

    NMU         ILLINOIS         Newsgathering         Mar 6, 2002    

Journalists contest Chicago fingerprinting regulations

  • The city’s police department recently unearthed a long-standing policy requiring journalists to be fingerprinted and photographed in exchange for media credentials.

Chicago journalists recently sent a letter to Mayor Richard Daley, requesting that he review a Chicago Police Department code requiring journalists applying for media credentials to be fingerprinted.

The measure requiring journalists to be photographed and fingerprinted has been on the books for years but never implemented. The credentials allow reporters and photographers to cross police lines.

Police leaked the news about the media credential over time, according to Christine Tatum, president of the Chicago Headline Club and a technology reporter for the Chicago Tribune.

David Bayless, the director of news affairs for the Chicago Police Department, said that the threats the city has received since Sept. 11 forced the department to scrutinize the way it does everything, including issuing press credentials.

“We wanted to tighten up and add some real integrity to our media credential process,” Bayless said.

But requiring journalists to be fingerprinted is an invasion of privacy, Tatum said. She said the police department could run background checks on reporters and possibly use that information against them.

“You don’t need a fingerprint to prove” that a person is a journalist, Tatum said. “That we represent a news department should be all the information the police department needs.”

In the Chicago Headline Club’s letter to Daley, Tatum wrote that the ordinance was clearly dated, mentioning news reels but not television, cable or online journalism. She wrote that the ordinance makes no provision for part-time or free-lance journalists and could affect journalists’ abilities to be independent and critical of government.

The police typically issue 3,000 media credentials a year, but Bayless said the numbers might go down slightly if journalists choose to not follow the rules.

“Reporters are granted access where general public isn’t,” Bayless said. “We are attesting to their credit, confidence and authority by issuing credentials.”

But in her letter, Tatum said the “Superintendent of Police lacks the legal authority . . . to establish rules and procedures for the issuance of media credentials.”

“We question their ability to decide who is and isn’t a journalist,” she said. “We question their right to do that.”

KG

Editor’s Note:

After publication of this article, Bayless replied that police sent 120 letters to news directors on Jan. 17, informing them that the policies would be implemented in 2002. He added that the city council, in a city ordinance, gave the police the authority to issue the media credentials.

Bayless said the police aren’t deciding who qualifies as a journalist. “We are just making sure that when we issue a credential we are doing it with the confidence that a person is who they say they are,” he said.

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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