Monday, December 5, 2011

Freedom Of The Press Is The Biggest Casualty Of Last Night's #OccupyLA Raid

[Above: The heroes of last night's raid - citizen journalists and Livestreamers Oakfosho and OccupyFreedomLA]

Though thankfully there's no reports of anyone being seriously hurt during last night's police action, perhaps the biggest casualty was the First Amendment and freedom of the press. The LAPD pre-selected a group of a dozen handpicked mainstream media representatives, and denied access to the City Hall grounds to all other journalists while the eviction was taking place. (During the actual raid, any media already present were warned that they may face arrest or serious injury if they ignored the dispersal order and remained on the South Lawn.) Predictably, no independent or alternative outlets - and no bloggers or Livestreamers - were among the LAPD's chosen few.

At one point in the evening, citizen-journalist-turned-Livestream-celebrity OakFoSho was threatened by an officer who pointed the business end of a weapon at him - with his finger on the trigger. This incident was witnessed by the surrounding crowd who chanted "guns down" repeatedly in response and the approximately 15,000 viewers who were watching OakFoSho's stream. The officer's name was duly noted and shared by numerous tweeters (including friend of SG Wil Wheaton).

Just as troubling was the fact that the pool of approved media had serious restrictions placed upon them. They were not allowed to tweet or call-in stories live from inside the park until after the eviction, and had to funnel all pool reports via a city news wire service. Additionally, KCAL9 revealed they had "made an agreement with the LAPD to not give away their tactics," and, according to BoingBoing's Xeni Jardin, "CBS LA blacked out shots so as to 'not interfere with integrity of police action.'" Many other bloggers and tweeters also noted their disappointment at the easy compliance of so-called journalists and traditional media outlets, whom they felt should have put up more resistance to the obvious attempt to restrict and suppress information.

The underlying serious First Amendment issue at play here is the principle that the police shouldn't be the ones to decide who is and who isn't deemed press - since the function of a free press in a democracy is to provide a check and balance for those in authority. Furthermore, even those members of the media granted pre-designated access can't cover any action freely if they're worried about having the credentials they need for such coverage rescinded (as was the case in New York during the Zuccotti Park eviction). Given the gravity of this issue, we expect this story to develop over the next few days and weeks, and understand the ACLU is already in the process of taking action.

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