New York City Hall is out of line in demanding information about the criminal backgrounds and open cases of journalists applying for press credentials.
Freedom of the Press Foundation was among the chorus of voices calling for press credentialing authority to be removed from the New York Police Department in 2020. That necessary change was passed by New York's City Council last year, moving the authority to the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.
But the mayor's office, now tasked with this role, has imposed new and unjustified hurdles in the process, a practice reported last week by New York Magazine’s Intelligencer. The rule for the first time requires applicants to provide information about felony convictions or any “open case for a lawful arrest for a misdemeanor while newsgathering.”
That last line is especially egregious, given that our call for a revamped press credentialing process followed well-documented incidents of journalists being improperly arrested at protests. According to our U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, 13 journalists have been arrested or detained while reporting in New York City since 2020.
City Hall reportedly emphasized to Intelligencer that the rules were implemented before Mayor Eric Adams took office in January. Regardless, this is Adams’ mess to clean up. And people will be watching especially closely, given his longstanding ties to the NYPD. (Adams was a New York City police officer for more than two decades before beginning his political career.)
Moving the press credentialing away from the police was a necessary step, but ensuring that the process is conducted fairly and with appropriate respect for press freedom requires more. As a key stakeholder in the lawmaking process put it, this implementation goes against the intent of the lawmakers who fought to move the credentialing process:
Keith Powers, the council member who sponsored the law, said he was caught by surprise by how [the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment] interpreted its new authority. “I was not aware of this rule in the application process, and think it should be removed to uphold the intention of Local Law 46,” he said in a statement.
Others have threatened to take the mayor's office to court over this new guideline. We urge the agency to do the right thing and remove these criteria from their application.