Free Press, the national media-reform organization, said on Friday that local authories in St. Paul, Minn., have agreed not to prosecute journalists arrested on misdemeanor charges during the Republican National Convention earlier this month. The group staged a news conference to comment on the decision.
"This is an important first step, but many questions remain," Free Press quoted Nancy Doyle Brown from Twin Cities Media Alliance, as saying, adding: "We still need answers about why and how journalists got swept up in these arrests in the first place. And more than anything else, we need to ensure that this never happens again. We'll never know how many important stories never got told because their authors were behind bars, not in the streets."
Nearly two dozen reporters were arrested during the four-day event, including Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman and two of her producers, Associated Press reporters, student journalists, local TV photographers, among others. Other journalists were pepper-sprayed, and reporters with I-Witness were held at gunpoint during a "pre-emptive" police raid aimed at disrupting protesters.
Free Press cited a press release from St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman's office which noted that the city's attorney will use a "broad definition and verification to identify journalists who were caught up in mass arrests during the convention."
"We're pleased that the St. Paul authorities ultimately acted to uphold the rights of all journalists -- including those citizens using blogs, cheap cameras and cell phones to report news as it happens," said Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, the national media reform organization. "Our task now is to ensure that our press remains free to report on the events, issues and stories that matter to our country, our communities and our democracy."
Less than three days after the initial arrests, more than 60,000 people across the country signed on to a letter from Free Press, demanding that Mayor Coleman and local authorities immediately "free all detained journalists and drop all charges against them." These letters were delivered to St. Paul City Hall the day after the convention following a press conference that included local citizens and many of the journalists who had been arrested earlier in the week.
"The news from St. Paul City Hall is certainly welcome regarding the decision to drop charges against journalists who were arrested and cited during the RNC," said Mike Bucsko, executive officer of the Minnesota Newspaper Guild Typographical Union, who spoke at a press conference. "However, it is essential the elected officials in St. Paul and Ramsey County examine the circumstances that led to the needless detention and harassment of journalists to ensure this type of indiscriminate behavior on the part of law enforcement does not happen again."
Local advocates and independent journalists from KFAI Community Radio, National Lawyers Guild, Twin Cities Daily Planet, Twin Cities IndyMedia, Twin Cities Media Alliance and The Uptake were joined bynational groups American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, The Newspaper Guild, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Reporters Without Borders, the Society for Professional Journalists and the Writers Guild of America, East, in condemning the unusually harsh treatment by city authorities.