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Chicago Police Terminate Local TV's First Amendment Rights

"In the course of covering a news story about a child who was killed in a shooting Saturday night, a tense and sometimes hostile situation broke out between Chicago police and a collection of journalists outside the hospital where the little girl was taken," WGN-TV reports.

"Officers say they were called to the scene by hospital security concerned about trespassers. As the situation escalated, two media members, including WGNTV's Dan Ponce, ended up in handcuffs. The other media member detained was a channel 5 photographer."

And here it is:


Ponce and the photographer were released after 10 minutes.


From the Chicago police:

"The Chicago Police Department did not charge anyone with criminal trespass in connection with today's incident, which involved the unfortunate and senseless loss of a young child. We removed two individuals from the hospital at the request of hospital security guards, who asserted that the individuals had tried to go past them into secure and private areas of the hospital. The security guards declined to press charges and the individuals were released. Our members were attempting to protect and respect both the grieving family members of the child, and the memory of the child herself during a very stressful time for all parties involved. As always, we will carefully review the allegations in the event further action is warranted."


From WGN-TV news director Greg Caputo:

"The WGN reporter and photographer were at all times conducting themselves professionally and properly. They did not enter the hospital grounds and they did nothing to antagonize any hospital security or Chicago Police."


From NBC Chicago's Christian Farr:

"I went over to the hopsital with community activist Andrew Holmes and went up to the front door of the hospital. Family members were there and they were obviously upset. I stared right at security guards who stared right at me and never said anything to me. I never went into the hospital."


From the Chicago Headline Club:

"The Chicago Headline Club is deeply troubled by the action taken this weekend by Chicago police against two TV news staff.

"While covering public reaction to a yet another sad loss of life from violence, they were handcuffed and briefly taken into custody near a Chicago hospital. They deny claims from hospital staff that they had attempted to enter hospital property and were removed by police when they were at a distance from the facility.

"This careless disregard for reporters' rights is a violation of our deeply engrained concepts of freedoms, beginning with the First Amendment. Yet is also a troubling message to all about the lack of respect for all of our freedoms from those charged with upholding our laws.

"Whether being witness at a troubling event such as this or any event important to the public, it's the responsibility of journalists to see and record what matters so that we can be an informed society. Journalists are not immune from concerns about public security and safety and abide by protections for all. But that was not the issue here.

"Everyday journalists are involved in covering events where some would simply prefer we are not on hand. That, however, is not possible thanks to our laws.

"In a recent case involving a photographer arrested while covering a public event, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press wrote:

The fact that a photographer, or any journalist, can be arrested and charged with a felony simply for being present to report on unarguably newsworthy events is beyond troubling: it's chilling.

"We are similarly troubled by what happened here and look forward to discussions with Chicago Police officials to avoid any future misapplications of their law enforcement powers."


Comments welcome.


Posted on March 19, 2012

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