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Reporters Say Police Denied Access to Protest Site


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November 15, 2011, 11:06 am

Reporters Say Police Denied Access to Protest Site


4:26 p.m. | Updated As New York City police cleared the Occupy Wall Street campsite in Zuccotti Park early Tuesday morning, many journalists were blocked from observing and interviewing protesters. Some called it a “media blackout” and said in interviews that they believed that the police efforts were a deliberate attempt to tamp down coverage of the operation.

The city blog Gothamist put it this way: “The NYPD Didn’t Want You To See Occupy Wall Street Get Evicted.”

As a result, much of the early video of the police operation was from the vantage point of the protesters. Videos that were live-streamed on the Web and uploaded to YouTube were picked up by television networks and broadcast on Tuesday morning.

At a news conference after the park was cleared Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg defended the police behavior, saying that the media was kept away “to prevent a situation from getting worse and to protect members of the press.”

Some members of the media said they were shoved by the police. As the police approached the park they did not distinguish between protesters and members of the press, said Lindsey Christ, a reporter for NY1, a local cable news channel. “Those 20 minutes were some of the scariest of my life,” she said.

Ms. Christ said that police officers took a New York Post reporter standing near her and “threw him in a choke-hold.”

That reporter and two photographers with him declined to speak on the record because they are freelance workers and lack some of the job protections of full-time employees. But as they sipped coffee on Tuesday morning in Foley Square, where some of the protesters had regrouped, they expressed surprise at the extent of what they described as police suppression of the press.

A freelance journalist working for NPR, Julie Walker, was briefly detained during the operation. A journalist working for DNAInfo.com, Patrick Hedlund, was also arrested.

Michael Ventura, the managing editor of DNAInfo.com, told The New York Observer that Mr. Hedlund, who was wearing a press credential at the time, was “doing his job and was arrested for that.”

Other journalists wrote on Twitter that they came close to being arrested in the early morning hours.

Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, said he saw “nobody” who was manhandled.

He said reporters were allowed on the borders of Zuccotti Park, but not in its interior. That was for safety, he said, comparing it to the way the police set up a perimeter for the press around crime scenes and calamitous events.

“They were told we were going to start making arrests and they left the interior of the park and if you see from the coverage, everyone got their shot,” he said, referring to video and photographs shown online and on television. “So I don’t think that was an issue. If you see from the coverage people got their shot.”

Andrew Katz, a journalism student at Columbia University who was writing for the Web site The Brooklyn Ink, said that the police “wouldn’t let us get anywhere near Zuccotti.”

Mr. Katz said that at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street, three blocks from the park, some police officers told him to stand on the sidewalk while others told him to stand on the street. “I was shoved by police on the sidewalk and then off the sidewalk,” he said. “Where was I supposed to go? It led to confusion among the press.”

Rosie Gray, a writer for The Village Voice, recounted telling a police officer, “I’m press!” She said the officer responded, “Not tonight.”

The reporters, police and protesters were all brought together at least once, though — Ms. Christ observed members of all three groups “waiting quietly in line for the bathroom at Starbucks” around 7 a.m.

Later in the morning, even when there were media reports that Zuccotti Park was reopening, reporters had a hard time getting access to the area. Debra Alfarone, a reporter at WPIX, the CW affiliate in New York City, wrote on Twitter around 8:45 a.m., “And we got kicked out of #zuccottipark again.”

At midday, as protesters tried to claim a vacant lot owned by a church, a confrontation ensued and at least four journalists were led away in plastic handcuffs. The City Room blog of The New York Times said that the journalists included a reporter and a photographer from The Associated Press, a reporter from The Daily News and a photographer from DNAInfo.

On Tuesday afternoon several journalism groups spoke out against the police tactics. One such group, the New York Press Club, said in a statement that “the brash manner in which officers ordered reporters off the streets and then made them back off until the actions of the police were almost invisible is outrageous.”

The group added, “We want the department to investigate the incidents involved this crackdown on Zuccotti Park and we want assurances it won’t happen again.”


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