The decades-long era of the NYPD deciding which journalists can take pictures of a crime scene and report on the streets past curfew is coming to an end. On Thursday, the City Council passed a bill that transfers the power to issue press credentials from the police department to the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.
“Freedom of the press is one of our country’s greatest protections. In New York City, we are taking one step further today to ensure that this protection is guaranteed,” Manhattan Councilmember Keith Powers, the main sponsor of the bill, said in a statement after its passage.
While MOME will issue the press credentials, the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) will adjudicate disputes that arise when the credentials are confiscated or denied.
Notably, the bill prohibits the city from seizing a journalist’s press credential until after an OATH hearing. Currently, journalists have no due process rights when the NYPD suspends or revokes their press card, and journalists (including Gothamist contributors) have had their press cards taken by NYPD officers on the street. The police department, which has been sued in federal court for this practice and the lack of due process, testified in support of the legislation.
Initially Powers’s bill gave credentialing authority to the city’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services, but Mayor Bill de Blasio said he preferred MOME, and signaled it as a condition for his support.
Norman Siegel, a civil rights attorney who has represented journalists trying to obtain their NYPD press credentials (including Gothamist reporters), said he was “disappointed” that the process was essentially transferred from one politically interested entity to another.
“The mayor’s office is not independent and neutral, they generally like favorable press,” Siegel said, adding that his preference would have been Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. Still, he called the bill “a step in the right direction.”
“The history of the NYPD and how it exercised of authority and jurisdiction of the issuing of press credentials has been unsatisfactory, so transferring this function to another agency is warranted,” Siegel said.
The bill will take effect 270 days after the mayor signs it. Until then, MOME will have to come up with a set of rules and regulations regarding the issuing of press credentials, and the due process for restricting them.