In New York, Debate Over Reporters’ Rights At Occupy Protests Continues

By Merrill Knox 

On the heels of last week’s media blackout in Zuccotti Park, the New York Observer has a round-up of the continuing debate about the rights of reporters covering the Occupy movement. The Observer points to an interview deputy commissioner of public information Paul Browne gave to NPR on Friday:

He went on to explain that no reporters were arrested at Zuccotti Park during the raid, where reporters cooperated and were held two blocks back. As for the arrests of reporters made later that day elsewhere in lower Manhattan, they might not have happened with more oversight.

“Had we had somebody there, DCPI would probably try to accommodate a reporter getting caught up in a situation with a group pushing through police lines,” he explained. He added that the five reporters had their arrests voided.

Mr. Browne made no defense for keeping media out of the Zuccotti raid altogether, explaining that a press pass does not mean the automatic right to cross police lines.

“There are other provisions,” he said, “providing basically we allow it at that moment.”

“Just like a crime scene, we’ll bring reporters in after the fact.”

And in the New York Times, an examination of what rights are afforded as the landscape of journalism continues to shift away from “traditional” reporting:

26 reporters and photographers have been arrested at protests linked to the movement, according to a count by Josh Stearns of the media advocacy group Free Press. A significant portion of those arrested were freelance workers, students and writers for alternative publications. “As journalism is changing,” Mr. Stearns said, “it’s going to create new friction and conflict over what we mean by the First Amendment.”

Many journalists were blocked from Zuccotti Park as the eviction took place on Tuesday morning, leading to accusations of police suppression of media coverage.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said the restrictions were put in place “to prevent a situation from getting worse and to protect members of the press.”

Journalism groups have filed complaints about the restrictions and arrests, resulting in renewed scrutiny of how the Police Department processes requests for press credentials. Of the 10 reporters arrested in New York on Tuesday, half had credentials. Discussing the arrests, Mr. Stearns said, “In the heat of the moment it may be very hard to tell who is and who isn’t a journalist,” though he said that was no excuse.