- Police and local and federal officials in St. Paul, Minnesota are
under fire from independent media groups for their crackdown on
reporters at this week's Republican National Convention.
"We are concerned that police in St. Paul prevented journalists from covering a breaking story," said Committee to Protect Journalists
Executive Director Joel Simon on Tuesday. "We urge authorities to drop
any pending charges and allow journalists to continue with their work."
The New York-based group, which monitors media suppression around
the world, condemned the arrest of four journalists who were
documenting the confrontational end to an otherwise peaceful antiwar
protest on the opening day of the Convention.
Well-known television and radio personality Amy Goodman, host of the nationally syndicated program Democracy Now!,
was arrested when inquiring about the condition of camerawoman and
producer Nicole Salazar and sound technician Sharif Abdel Kouddous.
In a video of Goodman's arrest, onlookers can be heard in the background calling for police to "release the accredited journalists now."
Salazar shot footage of her own arrest,
where she can be heard shouting "press! press!" as she is shoved to the
ground by baton-wielding police who ran directly at her and told her to
"get the hell out of here!" Once on the ground, the police repeatedly
yell at Salazar to "get down on your face." The camera flips over,
recording three screams -- apparently from Salazar -- and then cuts
off. [Watch Salazar describe her detention]
A fourth journalist, Associated Press photographer Matt Rourke, was
also arrested during the protest. All four journalists were released
within hours of their arrest, though several had their press passes
confiscated, apparently by federal Secret Service agents.
"It was very clear who I was," Goodman told media after her release. "I
had all my credentials hanging from my neck. 'Look -- these are my
credentials,' I said. A Secret Service agent walked up to me and said, 'Oh really?' and ripped my credentials off my neck."
Kouddous told the Committee to Protect Journalists that the same agent also confiscated his daily press pass.
Distinguishing Between Press and Protesters
The National Association of Hispanic Journalists called on police and local and federal officials to "respect the First Amendment right to free speech and free press of journalists doing their job."
"In this era of new technology and broader participation in citizen and
independent journalism, it may become increasingly difficult for police
to tell journalists from those who are not," the group said. "But
police must be aware it is their duty to try, and to respect the role
of the press in a democracy. When the media has credentials, as was the
case with Goodman and other journalists arrested, the police should
have a much easier job."
The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), meeting this week in Atlanta,
said: "Police have a duty to protect and serve the public. So, too, do
journalists serve the public interest. SPJ doesn't object to the police
stopping violence. Rather, we are merely alarmed by the disconcerting
trend of journalists being treated as if they are a threat to public
safety, when they are clearly fulfilling their roles as professional
Media Intimidation Alleged
The nonpartisan media reform group Free Press has said Monday's
arrests were part of "an orchestrated round up of independent [media]
covering the Republican National Convention."
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Police also raided a home where independent journalists were staying
over the weekend before the Convention began. The journalists were
working for a media organization known for documenting police
crackdowns against protesters, especially during the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City.
I-Witness Video's documentary work helped to get charges dropped
against over 400 people arrested during the 2004 Convention, according
to Elizabeth Press, who works with the group and was in the house that
was raided over the weekend. Police surrounded the house for several
hours on Saturday, while waiting for a warrant to arrive.
When the warrant arrived, it was for the adjoining apartment in the
duplex house, but the police entered the apartment where the
journalists were staying anyway -- through an attic door. The police
then detained the journalists for approximately an hour, along with
those in the adjoining apartment, including the owner of the duplex
house, and searched the journalists' belongings.
"I feel like it's an intimidation tactic," Press told The UpTake, a live video documentary group that is also keeping tabs on protests and police activity during the Convention. "I-Witness Video has been in the news lately -- in the New York Times, and all over the Internet."
During the previous week, I-Witness Video's colleagues in
Minneapolis had their computer and video equipment seized, said the
group's Eileen Clancy, in a report filed during Saturday's raid.
And on Wednesday, offices being rented by I-Witness Video for its work
during the Convention were entered by police wielding batons and a
battering ram. Officers said they had reports of anarchists taking
hostages within the building.
An attorney working in the building, Geneva Finn, showed the officers around to clarify that there were no hostages being held.
"[The officers] did a pull-up on the frame of I-Witness' door, looked in, saw that there were people in there -- nobody was being held hostage," said Finn during an impromptu press conference
after the incident. "I then asked the police to leave, since no one was
obviously being held hostage here, and they refused. Eventually their
head sergeant came here, and decided that they could leave the
I-Witness Video was subsequently asked by their landlord to leave the premises due to the police attention they had attracted.
"The St. Paul police came after us with unfounded allegations that
we were engaged in criminal behavior. This harassment has interfered
with our ability to do the work of documenting the policing of protests
that we have come to St. Paul to do," the group said in a statement.
50,000 Demand Press Freedom
"We condemn the arrest and harassment of journalists before and during the Republican National Convention," said Free Press executive director Josh Silver.
"We call on the mayor, district attorney, and police chief to rein in
the overly aggressive -- and even violent -- tactics of law
enforcement. Arresting and detaining journalists for doing their jobs
is a gross violation of free speech and freedom of the press."
In just over 2 days, Silver's group has gathered over 50,000 names on a
petition to the mayor's office, the Republican National Convention Host
Committee, and other local officials demanding an end to the aggressive
and violent tactics used against journalists in recent days.
"Reporting by independent journalists is the only way for the
American public to learn the full story, and they must be free to do
their jobs without intimidation," Silver added.