The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, today expressed concern about the increasing number of journalists harassed by police while covering “Occupy Wall Street” protests across the United States.
At least eight reporters and photographers have been detained while covering the protests, including journalists who were clearly identified as members of the working press.
“There is no question that reporters and photographers have the right to observe, record and report on events that are in plain view,” Mijatovic said. “Media coverage of public events is the backbone of citizen oversight of government activities, and to detain reporters covering these events jeopardizes freedom of the media.”
A spate of police encounters has ensued in the past month from the ongoing demonstrations, including in Oakland, California, New York City, Nashville, Tennessee, and Atlanta, Georgia.
The latest arrests came just last week as two journalists for university newspapers in the state of Georgia were jailed for 14 hours and charged with “obstructing traffic” while covering an “Occupy Atlanta” demonstration. They must return to court in March 2012.
In Milwaukee, Journal Sentinel photographer Kristyna Wentz-Graff was detained as she photographed a demonstration at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. No charges were filed after video footage proved she was identified as a working journalist.
“Journalists should not have to defend their right to report on matters of public importance,” Mijatovic said. “Violating one reporter’s right affects all citizens. It is time for local officials to demand that their law enforcement agencies respect the rights and duties of media in covering public issues,” The Financial reported.