Video of a police officer's apparent attempts to block a New York Times free-lancer from photographing arrests at an Occupy Wall Street protest has led the newspaper to send a missive to the police department expressing disappointment.
George Freeman, the newspaper's assistant general counsel and vice president, sent an email about the incident to the New York Police Department's head spokesman on Monday, weeks after Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly ordered officers to avoid unreasonably interfering with media access during news coverage.
"It seemed pretty clear from the video that the Times freelance photographer was being intentionally blocked by the police officer who was kind of bobbing and weaving to keep him from taking photographs," said Freeman, who expressed concern Tuesday that the commissioner's "message that was sent out, while aimed with good intentions, doesn't seem to have had much effect on the ground."
Freeman said that while the department's head spokesman, Paul Browne, had acknowledged receiving the note, he had not yet sent a substantive response. When contacted by The Associated Press, Browne declined to provide further details.
Last month, Kelly issued a message to the NYPD's officers warning them they could be disciplined if they interfered with media access. In the message, he made clear that journalists are entitled to cross police and fire lines, unless it is unsafe or a live crime scene, and officers have a duty to provide access and information to the extent they can.
Kelly's message came days after a coalition of media outlets, including the Times and The Associated Press, sent letters to city officials protesting their treatment during the NYPD clear-out of the Occupy Wall Street encampment. The letters said police used force and arrested some journalists as they tried to do their jobs. Some journalists reported being forced so far from the encampment that they couldn't observe what happened.
In the incident caught on video Monday at a protest in Manhattan's Winter Garden Atrium, photographer Robert Stolarik can be seen wearing his NYPD-issued press credentials around his neck, where officers can see them. After he begins videotaping his encounter with the police using his cellphone, an officer appears to escort him from the scene.
Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, said the incident was reminiscent of a number of photojournalist encounters with police in recent months. Osterreicher said that he had also notified Browne of an incident Monday in which photographers reported being yelled at by police officers who said it was disrespectful to photograph a construction accident.
The commissioner's message "was a good first step," Osterreicher said. But "it's not a silver bullet. There's going to have to be a whole lot more than that to change the culture of the New York City police department."
"It's not up to the police to decide what is a proper photograph," he said.
Samantha Gross can be reached at www.twitter.com/samanthagross