Skip to about 1:45 in the video above to see police obstructing New York Times freelancer Robert Stolarik from taking pictures. It’s the latest demonstration of the NYPD’s general strategy of impeding the freedom of the press to cover Occupy Wall Street as it unfolds. We’ve written about states making it illegal to photograph or take video of police previously. But what we’ve seen in New York recently is a concerted effort to prevent the press from taking pictures or video of the protests and police conduct. Journalists have been arrested on a few occasions; here’s a personal account from Vanity Fair photographer Justin Bishop about his arrest. After the Stolarik incident above, which happened earlier this week, New York Times lawyer George Freeman sent a stern email to Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Brown, expressing the paper’s “disappointment” with the way Stolarik was treated. Here’s the full text of an earlier, similar letter, signed by a coalition of media honchos. In a discussion with Capital New York, Freeman described the email to the NYPD:
“We are disappointed that the result and first step of our recent meeting with Com. Kelly, the directive he issued reiterating that the police are not supposed to be interfering with the media’s doing their jobs and covering newsworthy events, has apparently not been followed or implemented on the ground. The World Financial Center video indisputably shows an officer bobbing and weaving for no other purpose than to block a Times freelancer’s ability to photograph police actions.” NYT lawyer George Freeman, speaking with Capital New York
This isn’t the first volley between media and the NYPD and Bloomberg administration. Letters have been sent to the authorities before; various organizations have helped pressure the NYPD and other authorities, as well. Though this is not without some effect&em;in late November, NY Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly issued a memo for all police instructing them not to interfere with the media&em;the Stolarik video shows that police continue to obstruct the press with impunity.
The NYPD have also said that the best way for reporters to avoid arrest is to carry a press card issued by the NYPD (though later recanted that statement). Wired’s Threat Level blog dug into the process of getting a press card and found something straight from Orwell. “We aren’t issuing press credentials to reporters covering Occupy Wall Street,” Detective Gina Sarubbi, NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Public Information, told Wired. And NYPD spokesman Stu Loeser admitted that arresting credentialed journalists covering Occupy Wall Street was justified. Photographer CS Muncy says that wearing an NYPD press card is akin to wearing an “arrest me” sign at the Occupy demonstrations. The Village Voice has more general coverage of the issue.
The limitations placed on photographers are limited to Occupy Wall Street, New York City, or even the US. The Committee to Protect Journalists chronicles journalists killed and detained each year around the globe. Here’s the list of journalists killed so far in 2011.
The ACLU recently sued the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in a federal suit, “alleging that the Sheriff’s Department and deputies ‘have repeatedly’ subjected photographers ‘to detention, search and interrogation simply because they took pictures’ from public streets of places such as Metro turnstiles, oil refineries or near a Long Beach courthouse.” American Journalism Review has further coverage of “the rising tension between news photographers and law enforcement officials” around the US.
And for a moment of levity, watch first half of the following Stephen Colbert clip in which is berates the Wisconsin state government for allowing guns in the state capitol building, but not cameras:
“Thank God! Cameras are dangerous. With no waiting period or background check any wack-job could just stroll into a Wal-Mart and walk out with a semi-automatic [camera]. Now for years I’ve been pressing for stricter regulations on cameras, especially around our elected officials. To many political lives have been cut short by some crazed [photo] shooter.” Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report
Colbert’s funny, but the issues are real. We’ve linked to Carlos Miller’s Photography is Not a Crime blog in the past, but it’s worth looking at again. Here are some recent posts: Virginia Man Arrested For Recording Cops Plans Lawsuit, Blogger Must Act Like Journalist To Be Treated Like One, Man Arrested After Photographing Executive Office Building In D.C., Nashville Police Arrest Journalist Covering Protest, Former WV Senator Ordered To Delete Photos In Pittsburgh Mall, Iowa Man Convicted In Videotaping Case Needs To File Appeal, Occupy Cincinnati Activist Arrested After Photographing “Covert” Cop Car, Occupy Calgary Activist Threatens To Sue Videographer For Recording Him, and Chicago Police Delete Journalism Professor’s Video Footage Of Arrest. Sadly, Miller’s blog is never left wanting for new content.
And in the UK, there’s a particularly laughable sign that’s been erected outside the Aldwych tube station (part of the London Underground system), banning DSLR cameras. Tim Allen found the sign and posted it to a twitter picture service. The sign reads “Due to their combination of high-quality sensor and high resolution, digital SLR cameras are unfortunately not permitted inside the station.” Amateur Photographer has a bit more information, and a follow-up as officials try to justify the ban. The British Journal of Photography has continued pressure on Transport for London, including a Freedom of Information request to get all government information relating to the ban.
Still in the UK, if you haven’t seen it before, Stand Your Ground is worth a watch. A group of photographers set out on the streets of London to exercise their right to photograph that which is in public view. They were interrupted in a variety of ways by representatives of private property, but received support from London police. It’s a great video.
As always, know your rights as a photographer. There are two good online summaries for US photographers, one by Bert P. Krages, an attorney who works on photo-related issues, and another by the ACLU. If anyone knows of similar resources for photographers from other countries, please send them along or post them in the comments below.