Occupy Wall Street: NYPD attempt media blackout at Zuccotti Park
Journalists report aggressive treatment as media blocked from protest camp during surprise police raid
Dominic Rushe in New York guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 15 November 2011 11.25 EST
Zuccotti Park after a police raid early Tuesday morning.
Photograph: MANTEL/SIPA / Rex Features
New York police attempted to impose a media blackout as they cleared Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park late last night.
As police swooped on the park in the early hours of Tuesday, the city closed airspace in lower Manhattan to prevent news helicopters taking aerial shots of the scene. Vans were used to obscure views of the park and a police cordon effectively blocked accredited media from reaching the site. Some of those members of the press who were in the park or were able to get there say they were arrested, pepper sprayed or treated aggressively.
One of the few reporters on the scene when the police moved in was Josh Harkinson, a writer for Mother Jones magazine. As police used tear gas to remove the last protesters from the park Harkinson identified himself as a member of the media and was physically dragged out of the park. He was told that reporters had to stay in a “press pen.”
Reporters tweeted their frustration using the hashtag #mediablackout and said police were ignoring and even confiscating press passes.
A New York Post reporter was “roughed up” according to the New York Times’ Brian Stelter. Lindsey Christ, of local cable-news channel NY1, said on-air this morning that “the police took over, they kept everybody out and they wouldn’t let media in. It was very planned.”
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At press conference after the raid, mayor Mike Bloomberg defended the decision to raid Zuccotti Park as “mine and mine alone.” He said the decision to clamp down on media coverage was made to “protect the members of the press. We have to provide protection and we have done exactly that.” He said the move was made “to prevent a situation from getting worse”.
Bloomberg said that “from the beginning, I have said that the city had two principal goals: guaranteeing public health and safety, and guaranteeing the protesters’ First Amendment rights. But when those two goals clash, the health and safety of the public and our first responders must be the priority.”
The New York Police Department did not return calls for comment.
While most media were left scrambling to catch up with the surprise midnight raid, some sections of the local press appear to have had some forewarning of what the police were planning. The New York Post, a persistent critic of Occupy, was able to splash on the news even though it happened after most papers had gone to press. The New York Times too was able to get early coverage on its website as the raid happened.
“Maybe Mayor Bloomberg has been watching Syrian TV or perhaps taking to Assad. His tactics are more akin to something you would see in Damascus than you would expect in country that claims democracy and freedoms of speech such as the United States,” said Karanja Gaçuça, a member of the Occupy Wall Street press working group.
Josh Sterns, associate program director at Free Press, has been tracking the arrests of journalists at Occupy rallies across the US. So far he has counted 14 media arrests and many incidents of violence against media covering the events.
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