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Knight Center


U.S. journalists arrested, roughed up while covering Occupy Wall Street protests

The arrests of at least three U.S. reporters covering the Occupy Wall Street protests, coupled with reporters who have been maced and beaten with police batons, is further complicating the debate over who is a journalist and the "everyone’s-a-journalist rhetoric that defines our media these days," according to the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR).

As CRJ explained, reporters covering the protests must have press credentials issued by the New York Police Department. In order to obtain such a press pass, the NYPD requires that applicants be "a member of the media who covers, in person, emergency, spot or breaking news events and/or public events of a non-emergency nature." Applicants also must submit "six published clips that prove you have covered breaking or spot news in the past," CJR said.

Such requirements are problematic, CJR pointed out, as it puts police in the role of determining who is a journalist, and journalists could be denied access simply because they don't normally cover breaking news, or because they are freelancers or new reporters, or because they are writing for a blog or new online start-up, so they don't have the requisite number of clips in order to get a press pass.

The cases of three journalists arrested while covering the Occupy Wall Street protests illustrate this problem, CJR said, as the reporters "couldn’t have obtained [the press credentials] had they tried."

Natasha Lennard, a freelancer for The New York Times’s City Blog, did not have a press pass and so was charged with disorderly conduct and detained for five hours as the NY Times worked to free her, according to a blog post she wrote.

Alternet freelancer Kristen Gwynne also was detained during the protests, reporting via phone, "They're arresting us one by one."

Similarly, MetroFocus reporter John Farley spent eight hours in jail, despite telling police he was with the press.

Beyond the arrests, the Atlantic Wire has documented several cases of reporters being pepper sprayed and struck with police batons while covering the protests.

For example, a television photographer and reporter were roughed up by police while covering the protests, according to Fox 5 in New York. Photographer Roy Isen was pepper sprayed in the eyes and reporter Dick Brennan was hit by a police baton. Police issued a statement saying that the journalists were "inadvertently struck by police," Fox 5 said.

Meanwhile, the Washington, D.C.-based Partnership for Civil Justice Fund has filed a federal class action lawsuit against New York City, alleging violations of the Fourth and First Amendments, claiming that police officers' comments that the arrests would make demonstrators "think twice" before protesting again amount to "chilling" speech and thus are unconstitutional, explained Gawker.

Other Related Headlines:
» The New York Times (A protest's ink-stained fingers)


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