NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · LOUISIANA · Newsgathering · Feb. 24, 2006
U.S. Postal Service detains journalist, keeping his videotape
Feb. 24, 2006 · The U.S. Postal Service last week detained a Washington, D.C.-based journalist for a German television network, releasing him only after he agreed to turn over his videotape of news footage taken at a New Orleans mail pick-up center for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Stephan Bachenheimer, a reporter/videographer for Bonn-based Deutsche Welle television network, was interviewing and filming people standing in ZIP code-delineated lines to pick up their mail Feb. 16 when a law enforcement officer asked him to leave, he said.
“He said, ‘You can’t film here,’ and I said, ‘OK’ and I walked to the edge of the parking lot and started filming” through the fence, said Bachenheimer, who added that there were no signs forbidding trespassing, filming or any other activity.
He was again approached by U.S. Postal Service police officers who asked him to quit filming, he said. “I asked, ‘Why don’t you put up a sign?’ and they said, ‘We don’t have to do that.'”
Bachenheimer showed them his foreign press credential issued by the U.S. Department of State and his congressional press pass, both of which regularly admit him to the U.S. Capitol, White House and other locations in Washington, D.C., he said.
“They weren’t impressed,” Bachenheimer said. “They said, ‘We have to take your tape,’ and I said, ‘No,’ and they said then we have to detain you.”
He offered to watch the tape — which contained only video of his interviews with people standing in the mail-center lines — with the officers, but they declined, he said. When Bachenheimer insisted on getting a receipt if the tape was turned over, “they said, ‘Put your hands behind your back’ and then click-click” they handcuffed him.
A third officer joined the other two and the three began interrogating Bachenheimer, asking him detailed questions about his itinerary during his trip to Louisiana and Mississippi, where he reported from some of the same sites he had reported from immediately after Katrina hit.
One of the officers told him “at least two times that in the past, I would have gotten away with [filming] but not now with the ‘war on terror,'” Bachenheimer said.
The officers released him after half an hour, only after he agreed to turn over his tape, which he reluctantly agreed to. In lieu of a receipt, he received a small piece of paper with several phone numbers, which he has not yet called.
He was escorted to his rental car, where officers wrote down the license plate number.
The incident, he said, “just strikes me as, if not illegal, highly inappropriate.”
Darla Stafford, a U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman, said postal policy is that “if a reporter shows up unannounced, they are told to contact media relations.”
“It’s our policy to be accommodating to the press,” said Stafford, who was not familiar with Bachenheimer’s account. “It’s troubling to me.”