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Journalists report numerous media arrests during protests

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  1. Newsgathering

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Newsgathering         Sep 30, 2002    

Journalists report numerous media arrests during protests

  • Some journalists assigned to the IMF-World Bank protests spent many hours detained with the people they were covering.

The count of journalists arrested late last week during the IMF-World Bank protests in downtown Washington, D.C., climbed to at least 17 as more reports came to light. Among those arrested were reporters and photographers from major media outlets, independent media and local student journalists.

Two reporters and a United Press International intern were arrested, detained and released without charges in a matter of hours. Student journalists and independent media were detained anywhere from 10 to 27 hours, slapped with a $50 “post and forfeit” fee for early release and returned to their respective newsrooms with a criminal charge of failing to obey the police.

“It’s very disappointing the way the police just go in and whether they are reporters or not, everyone gets arrested,” said Bruce Casino, a media lawyer with Baker and Hostetler who was called in to assist the UPI employee. “[It] doesn’t seem to concur with freedom of the press.”

Many journalists reported similar scenarios. While patrolling protest events in downtown Washington the morning of Sept. 27, police corralled a large group of people — including protestors, journalists and passers-by — handcuffed them and led them away on buses to be processed at a police facility hours later. Many had press passes.

Independent Media Center’s Robin Bell said he paid the $50 fine and was charged with failure to obey police and contends that he “was never given any order” to obey.

Kate Stepan, editor-in-chief of George Washington University’s student newspaper, was told by three of her staff members who were arrested Sept.27 that some heard the “one-minute warning” given by police prior to the mass arrests and others did not, she said. Those who did hear the warning and attempted to leave the area could not get through the crowds, she added.

The protests that occurred the rest of the weekend were much quieter, with few reported arrests and none of journalists. All the arrests occurred during the Friday morning protests that police allege were part of an effort to shut down the city.

Six journalists from The Independent Media Center were arrested, several with in-house press passes. Bell said he was issued a press pass by Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department. Bell said that the credentials were taken from him during the arrest by the same officer who had issued them.

Further, Bell said the video footage he gathered from the protest includes his arrest, which was shown at a press conference Sept. 30. The center plans to post the footage on its Web site.

While considering their legal options, many journalists who were arrested are turning to their news pages to voice their experiences and suggest solutions, such as issuing special press passes for the week of protests.

“The more well-known your press outlet, the more secure you’ll be. That’s instant brand recognition,” said reporter Michael Bruno, considering the long detainment of many other journalists. “I feel sorry for reporters who don’t have that benefit and who are essentially doing the same job.”


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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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