Journalists Covering Occupy Wall Street Evictions Arrested
Police Forcibly Keep Reporters at a Distance
By: By: Scott Griffen
VIENNA, 17 Nov. 2011 – Ten journalists were arrested and hauled onto police buses during events surrounding the forcible eviction of Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park earlier this week, while other reporters and photographers covering the raid were kept at a distance by police barriers, according to news reports.
The Associated Press (AP) said Wednesday that two of its journalists, reporter Karen Matthews and photographer Seth Wenig, were detained for several hours after they slipped through a fence to cover police confrontations with demonstrators on Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile, Julie Walker, a freelance journalist who was reporting for National Public Radio, told AP she was arrested several blocks north of the park and charged with disorderly conduct after covering the raid. “I told them I'm a reporter,” Walker was quoted as saying. “I had my recorder on before he ripped it out of my hand.”
News reports said that police also detained Jared Malsin, a contributor to the New York Times’ Local East Village blog; Matthew Lysiak, a reporter for the New York Daily News; Doug Higginbotham, a freelance videojournalist working for TV New Zealand; Patrick Hedlund, an editor for DNAinfo.com, a news website; and Paul Lomax, a freelance photographer on assignment for DNAinfo.com. Additionally, Vanity Fair reported on its website that one of its correspondents was among those arrested and Mr. Malsin wrote in the Local East Village blog that a photographer from Agence France Presse was taken away in the police van with him.
The arrests occurred as the journalists were attempting to cover police interaction with protesters at the time of the Zuccotti Park raid as well as later in the day at other several other protest sites in lower Manhattan. All of the journalists have since been released and it appears that all charges against them have been dropped.
Journalists who arrived to cover the NYPD’s nighttime raid on Zuccotti Park were kept on sidewalks away from the park and prevented from remaining in one place as events unfolded, AP reported. Reporters at the scene from NY1 and the New York Times tweeted that multiple journalists were roughed up — including a New York Post reporter allegedly place in a chokehold — by police guarding the entrance to the park, according to DNAinfo.com
While New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told the media that the arrested reporters had been “trespassing”, nearly all of them appear to have had valid, NYPD-issued press passes on their person at the time.
The International Press Institute (IPI) is alarmed over the NYPD’s apparent disregard for the First Amendment rights of the press and deeply troubled by allegations that force was used against journalists. IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said, “This attempt by New York City authorities to hinder the work of journalists reporting on a matter of vital public interest is completely unacceptable. Journalists must be allowed to operate in a climate free from harassment and intimidation — and above all free from the use of violence. We insist that the NYPD respect the rights of all members of the media, who play an essential role in a healthy democracy.”
John Daniszewski, senior managing editor for international news at AP, and an IPI member, added, “Access to such events is essential to accurately and fairly report news of public interest, and we believe that police should strive to respect the rights of journalists and should never have hindered or detained these two AP staff members who were just doing their jobs and behaving in a highly professional manner. We were grateful however that the pair was released in fairly short order.”
IPI is concerned that the events in New York point to a growing pattern of confrontation between law enforcement and the media in connection with the Occupy protests, which have now spread across the country. IPI previously reported on the arrests of journalists in Oakland, Milwaukee, and Tennessee as well as the detention of two student journalists in Atlanta.
New York City officials have so far defended the police’s handling of the matter. Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the policy of keeping journalists away from the park a measure “to protect members of the press”, according to AP. Commissioner Kelly said he would not have handled the arrests of the journalists any differently, DNAinfo.com reported. However, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer released a statement strongly condemning the arrests, calling the police’s actions ‘outrageous’ and noting, “Zuccotti Park is not Tiananmen Square.”