NewsGuild: Pittsburgh Police Behavior 'Unconscionable'

January 9, 2013

The text of the news release:

 

Outrageous Pittsburgh Police News Release Harms Public as well as Reporters

The outrageous behavior of Pittsburgh Police officials toward two enterprising reporters is not only an insult to the journalists’ professionalism, it is an assault on the public’s right to know.

As the union representing U.S. journalists, including the two aggrieved Post-Gazette reporters, we are increasingly disturbed by police actions across the country that attempt to crack down on journalists’ access to information, which is, in fact, the public’s access to information.

On one end of the spectrum, we are seeing more frequent arrests and threats of arrest of photojournalists, in particular. Even private citizens report being threatened by police and having their cameras or cell phones confiscated for legally recording a traffic stop or police incident.

In the Pittsburgh case, police officials abused their power a different way. But the intent was the same: to punish and intimidate reporters who dared to demand answers to important questions.

Jonathan Silver and Liz Navratil wrote a polite, professional email to the department’s public information officer about a New Years’ homicide/suicide and the police response to it. The email described what the reporters knew about the incident, followed by a detailed series of questions. Their response came via press release sent to 200 reporters: The chief’s office would be making no statement about the investigation.

Instead, police attached the full transcript of Silver and Navratil’s email and all of their questions, revealing the extent of the reporters’ own investigation.

This unconscionable breach of professional ethics by the chief’s office and the public information officer was not just an attempt to ruin a “scoop” for two reporters, it was an attempt to derail any communication between reporters and police beyond what officials offer at staged news conferences.

How well our democracy functions depends on the hard work and the courage of reporters – watchdogs -- such as Silver and Navratil.

We hope the police department’s behavior will backfire and that the public -- now armed with the long list of questions the reporters prepared – will demand answers.

NewsGuild, also known as The Newspaper Guild-CWA, represents 25,000 journalists and other workers in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Find us at www.NewsGuild.org, www.Facebook.com/TheNewspaperGuildCWA and @news_guild.