Should The Police Be Left to Decide Who’s “Press”?
January 23, 2017 (Fault Lines) — San Francisco Public Defender, Jeff Adachi, last week released body cam video from one of the officers involved in shooting San Francisco resident Sean Moore. Fortunately for Moore, his injuries are apparently not life threatening despite being shot twice at point blank range and he has been moved from a hospital to the jail.
The police initially refused to release the video, but Adachi who has access to the footage as part of the defense released it putting the police department and the San Francisco Police Officers Association on the defensive.
But another very disturbing thing happened as a result of this shooting: It seems that one or possibly two reporters were removed by police for not having press passes issued by the San Francisco Police Department. According to 48 Hills reporter Sana Saleem, she was asked if her publication was “like a blog” and then was told she couldn’t get credentialed because 48 Hills “is not in print.”
Many people have never heard of 48 Hills. Tim Redmond, editor of the publication, was also editor of the Bay Guardian, a now defunct alternative weekly that was in print for many years. He has covered San Francisco events for over three decades. If Tim Redmond sends someone to your news conference, then she’s a real reporter. The 48 Hills site also serves as the Bay Guardian archive. It may be a bit left leaning but it has not sold its soul to corporate overlords like much of the so called “print media.”
There are many situations where having a press pass can distinguish you from protestors on the street, enemy combatants or a suspect being chased by police. But it should never be up to the police whether you get one or not.
Police are public servants. As such, they are subject to public scrutiny and therefore should have limited, if any, involvement in deciding who should be doing the scrutinizing. It is a clear conflict of interest that should be apparent to everyone now that the digital photography age has proven time and time again that police, their departments, their spokespeople, leadership and union officials will stand-up and lie to the public with a straight face when it suits them.
Americans right to speak, ask questions and record the actions of police and government is in the hands of those same people in the form of policies. Nobody needs government approval to work as a journalist. If you can prove that your publication is up and running, and that you actually contribute, that should be all you need to access a police press conference. Allowing access for all media is in the interests of government as well. If you are in attendance there’s no excuse for getting it wrong. Your take on what you heard might vary from others but being in attendance means you need to have your facts straight.
We can all agree that there are circumstances where a more rigid press pass requirement is needed. Access to the other side of police tape and fire scenes requires more screening. The LAPD requires a letter of introduction with the publications business letterhead and a DOJ clearance. This makes it possible that a past criminal record might cause a denial of credentials. Or perhaps being on the no-fly list will do it, but that doesn’t mean you cease to be a journalist. The policy in Los Angeles means that two completely different government entities with differing objectives have a say in who gets a press pass shows how there are no set national standards, rules or regulations: It’s mostly left to cops to decide.
Applicants also must submit one or more articles, commentaries, books, photographs, videos, films or audios published or broadcast within the twenty–four (24) months immediately preceding the Press Card application, sufficient to show that the applicant covered in person six (6) or more events occurring on separate days.
In other words, you have to prove you’re a reporter, which isn’t so bad. Tough if you’re just starting out but if you keep at it ,you’ll be in a better position in a couple of years. In Seattle, the varying forms of media are all mentioned on the police site and the press pass is good for three years. It doesn’t grant any special privileges but they can revoke it at any time which is somewhat contradictory.
But San Francisco seems to have a very fluid policy that has been the subject of contention in the past. It’s not evident what it is from typing “Press pass policy” into the search bar on their website, but this appeared elsewhere:
Who Qualifies for a Press Pass?
Only persons employed by news-gathering media who are required to cover breaking news and to pass through police and fire lines qualify for a press pass. Feature writers and photographers, editorialists, freelance writers and photographers, personnel of dot-com financial and business companies, financial service broadcasters, and all staff not actively gathering news at the scene of an incident are not eligible.
If this is true, then SFPD policy eliminates almost everyone, and on its face disqualifies the SFPD from being in charge of issuing passes. It’s censorship. The decision and policies should be the job of an independent agency.