Just one day ahead of an NYPD hearing on proposed new regulations regarding the adjudication of cases where journalists have had their government-issued press passes suspended or revoked, leading city officials gathered in Foley Square downtown to demand instead that oversight of press credentialing be removed from the police department’s jurisdiction altogether.
“Today, I’m to calling on Bill de Blasio to cut through the bureaucracy and cut to the chase,” City Comptroller Scott Stringer said at a press conferences attended by roughly two dozen elected officials and freelance photojournalists. “He should immediately suspend the NYPD’s role in issuing press credentials today.”
Press passes — currently issued by the NYPD — allow journalists access to government buildings, including City Hall and courthouses, but also give them freedom of movement during breaking news events — everything from fires to the recent wave of protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Numerous speakers during the press conference noted complaints about the NYPD’s treatment of journalists during the Black Lives Matter protests, including the summary confiscation of press passes and camera equipment and police shoving journalists out of the way and, in one case, pulling a gun on a crowd including reporters.
Top city, state leaders join freelance photojournalists in criticizing police oversight of the First Amendment
Michael Nigro, a freelance photojournalist who formerly worked for BuzzFeed and was the lead organizer of the August 17 press conference, said that an NYPD press pass has become “not so much a badge as a bull’s-eye, a means of the NYPD controlling and censoring the press.”
At an event where Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, out gay Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman, and, via a written statement, New York State Attorney General Letitia James all joined in the call to remove oversight of press credentialing from the NYPD, no one was more forceful in his critique than Stringer, a top contender in next year’s mayoral race.
“I’ve just had enough of City Hall’s purposeful attempts to limit press access, to limit the ability of journalists to get the information they need,” he said. “This is nothing new. This has been a pattern over the last seven years.”
After this shot at the current mayor, Stringer went on to condemn police conduct during the Black Lives Matter protests.
“Now we witness firsthand, thanks to the photojournalists, the police conduct going after protesters the likes we have not seen in a generation,” the comptroller said. “This is absolutely an attempt to thwart our democracy.”
Though there have been widespread complaints from media organizations in recent months about the NYPD’s treatment of journalists, the proposed new regulations being considered at the August 18 hearing are rooted in a five-year-old lawsuit by a freelance photojournalist. J.B. Nicholas sued the police in 2015 after his press pass was pulled while he covered a Manhattan building collapse, and Sergeant Jessica McRorie, an NYPD spokesperson, last month said the proposed new regulations came as part of a settlement agreement in that case.
Both Nigro and civil rights attorney Norman Siegel acknowledged that the specifics of the new regulations were “a step in the right direction” in codifying the rights of journalists in danger of losing their press passes, but Siegel spoke in details about problems he saw with the NYPD proposal.
Having the NYPD oversee the hearings where journalists can challenge the removal of their pass, Siegel said, is a “conflict of interest,” and the grounds for confiscating a pass — “failure to comply with a lawful order of a police officer” and “the intentional interference or attempt to interfere with the performance of a police officer’s official function” — are too vague.
Siegel indicated that he will go into significantly greater detail during his testimony at Tuesday’s NYPD hearing, but the overall thrust of the press conference was on what Nigro described as the demand for “an exploratory committee” to look into transferring control away from the NYPD to another entity.
In Stringer’s view, that entity should be Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, “where he will be held accountable.”
Others — including James, Brewer, and Hoylman — were not specific about what entity should assume press credentialing responsibilities.
“It’s clear that the NYPD should not have unilateral power to issue and revoke press credentials, and it is past time to move this authority to another, more appropriate agency,” the attorney general said.
Hoylman, who compared the NYPD credentialing the press to “foxes guarding the hen house,” said that if de Blasio fails to act on the demands out of today’s press conference, he would look into what action the State Legislature could take instead.
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