At a time of increased scrutiny over the actions of police forces across the country, fueled by protests of historic proportions, the New York Police Department (NYPD) has proposed new regulations that would expand the authority of officers to seize the press credentials of journalists and bar them from crossing police lines to cover news stories.
Released on Wednesday last week, July 15, a proposed amendment to the existing rules on press credentials states that “a press credential is subject to a summary suspension or revocation if the credential holder abuses their privileges or engages in conduct that endangers public safety.”
The new regulations list a number of offenses that could strip journalists of police-issued press credentials in New York City: being arrested for a violation or a crime; “failure to comply with a lawful order of a police officer”; “intentional interference or attempt to interfere with the performance of a police officer’s official function”; “misusing or misrepresenting the press credential while not acting in a news gathering capacity”; unauthorized transfer of the credentials to another individual; and “other conduct that endangers public safety or interferes with legitimate law enforcement needs.”
The new set of rules empowers NYPD officers to seize the press credentials on the spot. Journalists who are denied their credentials would be able to appeal the decision and request a hearing in writing within 20 days from the date of the denial.
The new regulations were received with widespread criticism from news organizations and nonprofits that advocate for freedom of the press.
In a statement last week, PEN America called the new rules “an attack on free press.”
“The New York Police Department’s new proposal is a blatant effort to weaken our free press,” PEN America’s director of US free expression programs, Nora Benavidez, said in a statement. She continued:
It would grant extreme latitude for officers to revoke reporters’ credentials if they determine a journalist has interfered with ‘legitimate law enforcement needs.’ This kind of unbridled police discretion begs the question: Whose interests are furthered by restricting the press’s ability to document law enforcement conduct? Certainly not the public.
In an opinion article, the New York Times’s editorial board wrote, “The timing of the changes, in the works for years, sends a message that police officials are trying to hinder an important check on their conduct.”
“The new rules themselves are an affront to both good government and common sense,” the board added. “As proposed, they are too broad and clear the way for the department to act capriciously in retaliation against the press.”
However, there are those who argue that the new regulations are an improvement on the current rules. In an opinion piece for the Gothamist, reporter and photojournalist JB Nicholas, who says he was arrested or detained for newsgathering several times in the past and had his NYPD press credential taken from him “at least a half dozen times since 2006”, wrote that critics of the new rules “do not understand is that the current system is far worse, and that these hard-fought-over and carefully crafted rules will act as a meaningful check on the NYPD’s power to censor journalists.”
According to Nicholas, under the current system, journalists who were denied their credentials are not told the reason for the denial and face an opaque repeal process.
“[Journalists] are not told what they need to prove to win at the hearing and obtain the return of the credential,” he wrote. “The law fails to state who has the burden of proof and what the burden of proof is. Journalists are not permitted to see or challenge the evidence against them.”
A public hearing on the proposed regulations will be held on August 18.