WATCH: Members of the Press, Elected officials Call for Changes in NYPD Press Credentialing

Video by Sandi Bachom

“The relationship we have now with the NYPD is untenable and needs to radically change, If an NYPD press credential means you must stand away from a story and kowtow to questionable edicts from people in power, or you need to play a quid pro quo game with the NYPD in order to report on a story, then that is not a functioning free press.” – Photojournalist Michael Nigro

For those of you outside of the press bubble and outside of New York City, I’m going to tell you something surprising.

In NYC, the center of America’s news media – the New York Police Department is the organization who decides if a journalist is a journalist.

If you want to cover news on the streets of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island or the Bronx you need to apply to the NYPD, and prove to them that you are a journalist that deserves to be issued a press credential. This is often a long and arduous problem, Gothamist even back in the day had to go to court to get credentials for their journalists. Freelancers that don’t have the backing of an NYC based news publication can find it even harder.

The issues don’t stop there – the credentials that are issued by the police are technically property of the NYPD and thus can be literally ripped off your neck by any police officers on the street. I’ve personally witnessed this threat be issued multiple times during protests.

A group of journalists (myself included), led by photojournalist (and friend) Michael Nigro, thought that this needed to be changed. We’re not the only ones. NYC Comptroller Steve Stringer called upon Mayor de Blasio to remove this power from the police.

“…strip the New York City Police Department (NYPD) of the authority to issue press credentials and transfer that responsibility to the Office of the Mayor, the highest level of government set out in the City Charter. Comptroller Stringer also urged the Mayor to lift the arbitrary restrictions that the NYPD now applies to applicants and create new standards that reflect the diversity of New York City’s reportage.

Press release from NYC Comptroller Stringer’s office.

Attorney General of NY, Tish James who has been taking note of police violence during the protests called upon the system to be changed – saying

“One of the foundations of our democracy is freedom of the press, and we must be acting to protect that principle, not limit it. 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.

Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher took it a step further calling for the press credentialing process to be separated from the NYPD. Saying “We need a free and thriving press to hold our institutions accountable,
now more than ever.”

To quote from the Press release they called upon the NYC Mayor to do more – requesting that Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council to pass a Binding Resolution on the NYPD to protect all members of the press and current press cardholders. This includes but is not limited to:

a) Using physical force against a journalist
b) Threatening journalists with arrest or detention, or taking any journalist into custody, or seizing their equipment.
c) Threatening, harassing or intimidating a journalist.
d) Deploying indiscriminate munitions
e) Kettling or kill boxing crowds that are likely to include journalists
f) Ordering or forcing journalists to disperse, or to stop recording or observing a protest.

Anyone who has gone through the process of getting credentialed knows it’s a broken system. Whether it’s because the police are not ones to be trusted with such authority or simply because of their clear inability to fufill the job. Police have many jobs, one can argue – too many to also deal with this extremely important and increasingly difficult process of essentially deciding who is and isn’t working press in New York City.

Follow Michael Nigro – Twitter @NigroTime for more on this fight.

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