The often violent response to the Occupy Wall Street campaign that is growing in the United States and elsewhere is affecting the freedom to inform. Reporters Without Borders condemns the arrests of reporters in recent weeks, especially in New York where the police assume the right to decide who are journalists.
On the eve of major worldwide demonstrations planned for 15 October, Reporters Without Borders urges the authorities not to resort to repressive methods, which constitute acts of censorship.
Many journalists have found themselves being prevented from covering the movement’s activities ever since it began on 17 September. Ordinary citizens, bloggers and netizens who provide information through online social networks have also been affected by this obstruction. More seriously, the New York Police Department treats a person as a journalist only if they have a press card that the NYPD itself issues according to its own criteria.
“Since when is a police department equipped to determine who is and who is not a journalist?” Reporters Without Borders said. “Such restrictions can be used to block news and information of public interest, whether it is reported by the participants themselves or by professional journalists who are there just to do their job. This NYPD filtering violates the most elementary constitutional guarantees."
Reporters Without Borders also condemns the constant use by the police of the charges of “disorderly conduct” and “failure to disperse.”
- A Fox5 TV crew was attacked by police while covering an Occupy Wall Street demonstration in New York on 5 October. Cameraman Roy Isen received pepper spray in his eyes while reporter Dick Brennan was hit in the stomach by a police baton. A police statement said the two journalists were “inadvertently” struck when police resisted a charge by protesters.
- Natasha Lennard, a freelance journalist and contributor to a New York Times blog, was held for five hours in a police truck on 1 October because she did not have an NYPD press card. She was arrested along with 700 people during the Occupy Wall Street march across the Brooklyn Bridge. Kristen Gwynne of the AlterNet web-magazine suffered the same fate at the same place on the same day.
- John Farley, a journalist with the magazine MetroFocus, was arrested while covering an Occupy Wall Street demonstration in New York on 24 September despite wearing a badge identifying him as a reporter. He was held for eight hours.
The ThinkProgress website has meanwhile reported that Yahoo! Mail has censored emails containing the words “Occupy Wall Street.” When users tried to send a message with this phrase, they got the following notification: “Suspicious activity has been detected on your account. To protect your account and our users, your message has not been sent.”
Several social networks are also suspected of helping to censor information about the protests. Yahoo! said messages may have been blocked by its spam filters but were not blocked deliberately. Yahoo! has been accused of political censorship in the past, above all after it provided the Chinese authorities with information about users in 2005.
Reporters Without Borders hopes that journalists who have been the victims of violence will get their charges lifted and obtain compensation. The organization welcomes the compensation that three Democracy Now! journalists have just obtained for the injuries they sustained at the hands of the police while covering a Republican Party national convention in Minneapolis in 2008.