Press freedom groups to Capitol Hill cops: Stop interfering with photojournalists

July 27, 2017
Category: Business & Work

Two days after Capitol Hill police told journalists to delete their photos during a protest over the ongoing fight to replace Obamacare, several media advocacy organizations have taken a stand.

The National Press Photographers Association, along with eight other organizations, sent a letter Thursday to the chief of the U.S. Capitol Police and the Senate sergeant at arms requesting they take alleged interference with journalists’ work seriously and work to review their policies.

“As members and representatives of the news media, we feel it is imperative to stress that your officers should be instructed that orders to destroy a journalist’s work product are contrary to all of these provisions and must not be tolerated,” it reads.

The letter, signed by NPPA General Counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher, comes two days after Capitol Police reportedly told some journalists to delete photos or videos they had taken of a protest in the Senate visitor galleries because it was a “crime scene.” The protestors, whom police removed to restore order, were decrying Republican efforts to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act.

“If, as reported, officers ordered journalists to ‘delete images’ of this incident, this action raises significant legal concerns both under the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures and the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process guarantees,” Osterreicher said in the letter.

Tuesday’s incident isn’t the first time in recent weeks that U.S. government officials have come under fire for attempting to cut back on journalists’ recording permissions. Last month, Senate Republicans shocked the media when they said reporters would no longer be allowed to film or record in the hallways of the Capitol building without prior permission.

The restrictions, which were reportedly imposed by the Senate Rules Committee, immediately drew criticism from both the press and lawmakers. However, a statement later issued by the committee chairman said there would be no change to the existing rules that allow reporters to record in the hallways.

Given past incidents, the NPPA said in its letter that federal authorities’ latest move to allegedly interfere with the media’s work on Capitol Hill is troubling.

“We believed we had properly resolved this issue after last month’s incident where journalists were erroneously told that they were not allowed to record interviews in these same hallways,” Osterreicher said in the letter. “While it is understandable that your officers may have had a heightened sense of security during this incident, that is still no excuse for them to not recognize a person’s (citizen or journalist) First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.”