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Sporadic press restrictions seen in aftermath of terrorist attacks

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    NMU         WASHINGTON D.C. / NEW YORK         Newsgathering         Sep 19, 2001    

Sporadic press restrictions seen in aftermath of terrorist attacks

  • Journalists say reports of government interference with news-gathering are occurring in the wake of attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, but they appear to be isolated situations and not a concerted effort to hinder reporters.

Amid the chaos in the first few days after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, reporters took advantage of almost unfettered access to the devastation to relay stories about the catastrophe.

But as both press corps and law enforcement resources expanded over the weekend, journalists found admittance to the center of the attacks more restricted. A few reports of police interference with reporters and photographers also surfaced.

In New York, Los Angeles Times reporters said police and members of the National Guard began confiscating film from photographers and tourists. Picture-taking near the attack site, the newspaper was told, infringed upon the privacy of victims and their families.

A reporter from CNSNews.com said Washington, D.C., police cordoning off the White House ordered him to not take pictures or risk being questioned.

Reporters from the three television networks, CNN and Fox News expressed frustration with getting new credentials from New York City police and getting their equipment closer to the attack zones.

But the reports appear to be isolated, journalists in New York and Washington, D.C., said. Although officials such as New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld expressed some concerns about press coverage, actual restrictions were not put in place.

Los Angeles Times reporter Robert Lee Hotz, however, told his newspaper that he saw police officers and National Guard members taking film from news photographers, often without explanation. Hotz said police told him they were trying to “protect the privacy of the families” looking for loved ones.

New York police also took press credentials away from several journalists, saying the reporters violated the rules by either entering restricted areas or misrepresenting themselves as rescue workers. At least one reporter was cited for disorderly conduct.

In Washington, D.C., Jason Pierce, a staff writer for CNSNews.com, said a police officer ordered him not to snap any shots when he asked for a good spot to photograph events at the White House on Sept. 14. Pierce, a reporter with credentials from the Radio-Television Press Gallery of Congress, said the officer said police would question anyone taking pictures.

Scott Hogenson, executive editor of CNSNews, said the incident appears to be an isolated one.

“Which is good news for all journalists,” Hogenson said. “I think what we saw here was one of those occasional incidents when the excitement of the moment and the gravity of the moment clouded judgment temporarily.”

Arian Campo-Flores, a correspondent for Newsweek, said that within the first 24 hours of the attack on New York, reporters managed to scour many areas of Manhattan because police were focused on the crisis.

“The police weren’t organized enough to keep people out,” Campo-Flores said. “It was a bit easier to move around. If you were stopped at one block, you could kind of work your way around the blocks and maze of downtown, find an opening and find your way around. There were much more serious things than keeping reporters away.”

But he said that as police gathered more resources and established a more controlled environment, including the issuing of more than 1,200 press passes, access slowed.

“Now that they have more resources, the situation is more under control, and it’s a more coordinated effort,” Campos-Flores said.

PT


© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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