By: Allan Wolper
N.Y. mayor and media agree on policy to halt harassment
New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and a coalition of news organizations have come to an agreement that reporters hope will allow them to cover street activity without worrying whether police will take away their press cards or force them to stand behind barricades.
Giuliani approved the pact after returning from a U.S. Senate campaign trip to Arkansas aimed at first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, his presumptive opponent in next year’s race for the New York seat currently occupied by retiring Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Journalists say that Giuliani’s sudden decision to accept the agreement after two months of talk was aimed at avoiding a fight with the press that could affect his campaign.
Among the organizations in the news coalition are the New York Daily News, The New York Times, Newsday, The Associated Press, and the New York Press Club, which includes journalists from radio and TV in addition to newspapers. The New York Post was not invited into the group because the paper was perceived as being too close to Giuliani.
The details of the new agreement will be read to police officers at the start of consecutive eight-hour shifts, and a new course on press relations will be included in the curriculum of the police academy for new recruits.
Eve Burton, a vice president and counsel of the Daily News, says the agreement will be implemented as a police department policy statement that could be used in a future lawsuit if the police violate it.
“Will this solve the problems of the last four years?” asks Burton. “I don’t know. But the important thing is that there is nothing in it that precludes a lawsuit.”
Burton and Gabe Pressman, president of the New York Press Club, had convinced lawyers of the news coalition to write a legal brief detailing police interference with news coverage in preparation for the filing of a lawsuit. In many instances, the police would force photographers to shoot pictures of parades behind barricades that were a block away. Spectators, meanwhile, were allowed to roam unimpeded around city streets taking as many pictures as they wanted to. The coalition’s lawsuit became moot when Mortimer B. Zuckerman, chairman and co-publisher of the Daily News, met secretly with Giuliani, angering the coalition and forcing it to settle for a written police promise to behave.
The only caveat in the agreement is an undefined restriction on reporters during “extraordinary” circumstances, which reporters are taking to mean explosions such as the one that rocked Oklahoma City.
Pressman voiced cautious approval of the new pact, but says the Press Club “will continue to monitor it,” an indication that the Press Club would file its own lawsuit against the city if the police once again interfere with reporters.
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