As Pressure Builds, Some Cities Respond to Journalist Arrests

After arresting more than 20 journalists in New York City, and threatening press in various other ways, the New York City Police Department has admitted that it has reprimanded only two of its officers for their actions.

Josh Fox Arrested

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Josh Fox, who was arrested while trying to cover a hearing in the U.S. House.

Yesterday a coalition of New York news organizations issued a second letter calling on the NYPD to respond with details of their investigations into press suppression. The letter’s tone suggested that the coalition was stepping up its pressure since its earlier letter. Hinting that this may be just the start of its campaign to improve police/press relations, the coalition writes, “Please do not underestimate our resolve in working to rectify these concerns.

Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne responded to the new letter, noting that 1,600 officers had gone through a media training in the fall, with more scheduled to be trained soon. Browne said that just one officer and one sergeant had received reprimands — in spite of the admission from Mayor Bloomberg’s own spokesperson that at least five journalists who had NYPD press credentials were arrested. In his letter Browne suggested that other investigations were ongoing, but it’s unclear if anything will come of them.

While the NYPD’s lack of meaningful action is frustrating, New York has nonetheless done more than any other city to respond to the issues posed by journalist arrests. Just this week, policymakers in Chapel Hill, N.C., finally voted to issue a formal apology to journalists arrested there in November. Meanwhile, after seven journalists were arrested in Oakland this weekend, the response from Oakland police has been uneven at best. Some journalists have received apologetic phone calls, while others can’t even get their calls to police returned.

These issues aren’t going away. Even as police departments and cities begin to respond to concerns about press suppression, other arrests are being reported. In Miami, photojournalist Carlos Miller was arrested this week while covering an Occupy eviction and Gasland documentary filmmaker Josh Fox was arrested inside the U.S. House while trying to cover a federal hearing.

It is vital that we have news organizations working together to watchdog relations between the police and press, and apply pressure when needed. But we need to go beyond that. We need people to support and defend the First Amendment, to stand with journalists and insist that their cities do better.

Photo credit: linh.m.do via Flickr

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