Saturday, April 10, 2010

Press Club In Forefront Opposing New NYPD Credentialing Rules

Press Club In Forefront Opposing New NYPD Credentialing Rules

Organizations representing journalists and photographers expressed near total disapproval for proposed changes in the rules used by the NYPD to issue press credentials.

The New York Press Club, the New York Press Photographers Association, and the National Press Photographers Association took issue with the proposed changes at a hearing April 7, hosted by the NYPD and the New York City Law Department.

The groups, as well as individual journalists, photogs and representatives of media companies, said the new regulations were vague, complicated and did not reflect the best interests of working journalists.

What seemed like the only positive note was NYPD's willingness to include journalists from online media such as blogs, websites and digital video outlets as now being eligible for press credentials. (Exclusion of those "unaffiliated" journalists was at the heart of a lawsuit filed three years ago that challenged the constitutionality of NYPD's credentialing process).

Here are some of the major proposed changes:
(Download the full proposal document in PDF form)

  • » Three types of credentials will be issued: a Press Card, Reserve Card, and a Single Event Card.
  • » Press Identification Cards will be eliminated.
  • » New press cards will be issued every two years.
  • » Applicants must demonstrate that they have covered six news events where access has been restricted by the City within the two-year period preceding that application.
  • » Establishment of time frames for granting or denying applications, and formalizing hearings and appeals concerning denials or revocations.

A particular bone of contention expressed by journalists’ groups at the hearing had to do with actual access to news events.

The New York Press Club maintained that whatever the shape or color of the press pass, however often it is issued, whichever new/old media the bearer represents, in reality, police officers too often limit or deny access at crime scenes, fires or emergency situations.

"The credential is too frequently about as useful, about as helpful, about as accepted as an old metal subway token, or a toothless comb," said New York Press Club board member, Philip O’Brien.

He commented that the working press card has evolved into what amounts to a universal identification for journalists.

"Sadly," O’Brien added, "it’s more valuable and more respected by people outside of the NYPD."

High-ranking representatives of NYPD and the city's Law Department refused to answer questions about the new rules. Among them:

* Will any language now on press cards be changed, altered, removed or relocated on the card?

* How does an applicant prove s/he’s been prevented from covering six or more breaking news, emergencies or public events because s/he didn’t have a pass?

The New York Press Club told the panel that its board of directors had unanimously agreed to set up a committee of journalists to closely monitor any new application process, and to require from the NYPD an annual report specifically outlining how many persons applied for press credentials, which of those applications were denied, and why.

The Club also publicly called for the elimination of the requirement that journalists who live in the five boroughs have NYPD credentials as part of the application for NYP automobile license plates.

Only New York City resident journalists must produce a working press card issued by NYPD in order to obtain press plates. Journalists in upstate New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut need only provide a letter from their editor or news director attesting to their need for the plates.

The Club suggested doing away altogether with NYPD press passes. While that is not a likely option, it is one that high-ranking officials of the NYPD and the office of DCPI privately embrace.

The press credential process is a bureaucratic burden for NYPD that costs money, manpower and even good will. The Club also expressed the sentiment that a press pass strongly suggests a kind of license because it is approved, designed and issued by a government agency.

Nearly every media company requires employees to carry – and display – a company ID, that shows the bearer’s name, photo, title and division. These credentials could suffice as proper affiliation in the field for journalists covering breaking or emergency news. NYP plates would still be available to those who are eligible.

The NYPD could not say when the new rules would go into effect. Testimony at the hearing, they said, would be taken under consideration.

Press Club President Glenn Schuck said the Club is prepared "if we feel it necessary, to initiate or to join in lawsuits to overturn or at least to improve these new rules if they prove harmful to our profession."

The New York Press Club encourages any member who wants to comment on the proposed rule changes to write to the New York Police Department Legal Bureau, 1 Police Plaza, Room 1406, New York, N.Y. 10038.
A report on the January 19th, 2010, appearance by Commissioner Ray Kelly, as part of the New York Press Club's "An Evening With..." series.

New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said that if he had his way the police department would have nothing to do with issuing credentials or parking placards to news reporters.

“We don’t need the hassle,” Kelly explained during his Jan. 19 New York Press Club appearance. “I don’t know if that’s what you want. You need to think that through as an industry because, frankly, we have better things to do.”(Note: for more on the credentialing issue see story, below).

The statements came after a series of questions from reporters who complained of hostile and uninformed public information police officers and what is perceived by some as "unfairness" in the issuance of press credentials.

Many reporters who questioned Kelly told him of their problems with NYPD’s Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information — otherwise known as DCPI. An oft repeated complaint was that the office is slow to respond during breaking stories with information that NYPD might fairly be expected to know.

One reporter said there have been repeated instances of never hearing back from DCPI officers. Kelly said he would look into specific complaints, but also said he thought reporters at times have unrealistic expectations when it comes to information.

“You have to give us time to get the story,” Kelly said. “Reporters always think we have the whole picture right away. We don’t. It takes time to get accurate information.”

On the subject of certain news organizations being denied press credentials, Kelly said the department often has trouble identifying which news outlets are legitimate and which ones are just would-be news gatherers. And given the large size of New York’s media pool, Kelly said, his officers have to be vigilant when protecting a crime scene or any other event involving the police.

The commissioner said the process of credentialing is a considerable challenge because his officers must also contend with counterfeiting and the improper duplication of credentials.

One reporter with 35 years in radio said he recently went to work for a Web site but couldn’t transfer press credentials from his old job. His venue changed; not his experience, he said. Why couldn't he get proper credentials?

“We recognize that everything is moving to the web,” Kelly said. “It’s difficult for us to discern who is an amateur blogger and who is in the business. As the Internet continues to emerge this will work itself out.”

Responding to allegations of verbal and physical abuse from DCPI officers towards reporters, Kelly advised listeners to report such incidents immediately. He declined to comment further unless someone brought up a specific incident. No one did.

“We’re dealing with the human equation,” Kelly said. “Cops are not perfect. Reporters are not perfect. I know this is hard to believe, but not all cops love reporters.”

WCBS Newsrario 880 News Director Tim Scheld suggested to Kelly that the police and media come together to discuss their issues in a roundtable setting, exchanging information regarding the challenges each side faces on a daily basis.

“Often times, I don’t think [the police] understand what we as reporters have to go through on a daily basis,” Scheld said. “And I’m sure it goes both ways. We might not understand what the police are facing.”

Kelly agreed, but warned that for such a meeting to take place there would have to be “sensitivity on both sides.”

In the end, Stan Brooks of WINS 1010-AM said issues between the media and the NYPD have gone on for decades. And every so often both sides need a refresher course on relations.

“I think we got our message across tonight,” Brooks said. “I mean we’re not out there everyday to crucify people; we’re out there to report the facts.”

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