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Miami protest proposal could limit reporters' safety gear

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Miami protest proposal could limit reporters’ safety gear

  • Miami commissioners have tabled a vote to prohibit gas masks or bulletproof vests among protesters at upcoming Free Trade Agreement meeting, a prohibition that journalists fear could leave them vulnerable as well.

Sep. 26, 2003 — City commissioners on Thursday tabled until Oct. 23 a vote on an ordinance proposed earlier this month to regulate activities of protesters when the city hosts a ministerial meeting for the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas the week of Nov. 17. The proposal would prohibit anyone involved in protests of those meetings, including reporters covering them, from carrying or wearing a gas mask or bulletproof vest.

Reporters say that the amendment will prevent them from doing their jobs, and leave them unprotected if police fire tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds of protesters they perceive to be violent or out of control.

“The amendment as written would make it illegal for journalists to protect themselves while covering protests and potential riots in the city of Miami.” wrote National Press Photographers Association President Todd Stricker in a Sept. 24 e-mail to Mayor Manuel Diaz and city commissioners. “We are convinced that . . . law-abiding journalists could be unjustly arrested, seriously injured, or even killed.”

The 34-nation member Free Trade Agreement association hopes to unite the economies of the Americas into a single free trade zone. National labor, environmental and anti-globalization groups are planning mass rallies in Miami during the conference. Similar free trade meetings have triggered chaotic and even violent demonstrations in other cities, including Seattle and Washington, D.C.

The Miami Daily Business Review reported last week that city leaders are hoping to impress the conferences attendees because the city is currently under consideration as a headquarters for the association.

“We are keenly aware, that for the city, we need to pull it off flawlessly,” Miami Police Chief John Timoney told Miami Today.

Photojournalist Al Crespo of Miami, who has spearheaded resistance to the proposal, has proposed changes to the amendment that are designed to protect reporters.

(Ordinance J-03-772) MC

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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