Watchdog targets mayors: Stop harassing journalists covering Occupy protests

As has been widely reported, police crackdowns on the Occupy movement in cities across the country have extended beyond the protesters to include attacks on journalists as a way to stanch news of police action. Ten reporters were arrested in New York when police cleared Zuccotti Park on Tuesday, including reporters for the AP, NPR, and the New York Daily News, according to watchdog organization Free Press. The organization announced today it has launched a campaign “targeted at mayors around the country to demand they honor the 1st Amendment and drop all charges against journalists.”

“If the mayor of our country’s largest city thinks protecting the press means silencing them, we’re in big trouble,” wrote Free Press Program Director Josh Stearns at the organization’s website. Stearns has been tracking harassment and arrests of journalists covering the Occupy movement for the last two months.

From the Free Press campaign web page:

In what appears to have been a coordinated effort to block coverage of the raid, many journalists said they were barred from reporting the police action. Ten reporters were also arrested, another was put in a choke hold and others described extensive police harassment.

This kind of police response is happening all over the country. Police harassment of the press has been reported during “Occupy” protests in Chicago, Denver, Oakland, Portland and beyond.

We need to send the message loud and clear to mayors across the country: They must drop all charges and publicly commit to protecting press freedoms in their cities. This is especially true for Mayor Bloomberg, who took full responsibility for the NYPD’s actions.

Speak out now: Tell Mayor Bloomberg and the U.S. Conference of Mayors to publicly commit to protecting journalists covering all protests and police actions. You can also call Mayor Bloomberg at 212-639-9675 to speak out against the most recent arrests of journalists.

Free Press launched a similar campaign after police attacks on members of the press during the Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities in 2008. The Free Press petition then garnered tens of thousands of signatures within days. Journalists were released from custody and some of them eventually received settlements.

More than twenty journalists covering the Occupy protests have been arrested in the last two months and many more have been harassed. Police have reportedly pepper sprayed and gassed journalists and employed strobe lights when confronting protesters in order to mess with media efforts to video tape the action.

Police shunted reporters away from Zuccotti Park Tuesday in the small hours of the morning before they moved in to oust the protesters, including a reporter for the New York Times. “When it comes to the taking down of Occupy Wall Street, at least in New York, the whole world is not watching,” Times media writer David Carr said, citing the famous mass-media era protest mantra.

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