Three journalists filed a lawsuit against New York City on Wednesday over the police department’s refusal to renew their press identification cards.
In their complaint, the journalists call for a judge to declare the police department’s actions unconstitutional under the First Amendment, and to order the city to clarify the criteria for obtaining press credentials, saying the process is arbitrary and excludes online journalists.
Ever since they were denied credentials in 2007, the journalists claim in court documents, they have struggled to communicate "with the people who count on them for their unique perspective on New York City news and their incisive political and social commentary."
Freelance reporter David Wallis, who has contributed to The New York Times and The New Yorker magazine, and who runs a news Web site, said a major point of contention is the procedure the city uses to issue police press passes.
"The New York City police department is the last organization that should be in the business of deciding who is" a journalist, Wallis said in an interview.
Norman Siegel, who represents Wallis and the other two journalists in the lawsuit, believes there is an inherent conflict of interest between reporters and police, such that "the larger issue for me now is, why is the police department making these decisions?"
Siegel said the city’s methods have "run amok" and need to be changed; he hopes the lawsuit will help motivate that.
The two other reporters involved are Rafael Martinez-Alequin, who publishes the New York Free Press, and Ralph Smith, who works as a public information officer for the New York City Corrections Department and runs an online news source called The Guardian Chronicle, focusing on law enforcement news.
All three had held press credentials before 2007, according to court documents.
The city claims the passes were not renewed because the plaintiffs were not covering breaking news or working regularly as journalists.
According to the complaint, all three followed the procedure laid out by the city to have their press passes renewed, and none of them were given specific reasons when their requests were denied.
Gabriel Taussig, a senior attorney for the city, told The Associated Press that officials are "investigating the plaintiff’s concerns thoroughly," but generally maintains that the city’s actions are appropriate, according to The AP.