The City Council’s set to approve a plan that will take the NYPD out of the press credential business in New York City.
During their stated meeting Thursday, the city’s legislature approved the bill to make the Mayor’s Office of Movies and Entertainment responsible for issuing valid credentials for reporters, editors and photographers to cross police and fire lines to cover breaking news. It comes on a day that the chamber also considers a number of other police reform measures backed by the de Blasio administration.
For decades, the NYPD has borne the responsibility of issuing press credentials to journalists. But that responsibility came under greater scrutiny during the George Floyd protests last summer, when reporters and photographers were arrested and had their press passes revoked by officers during the marches.
The number of arrests and credential revocations sparked debate among the city as to whether the NYPD should continue to be responsible for issuing press passes. Many in the business also critiqued the department over the qualifying criteria for obtaining credentials, which some felt are too strict.
Seeking to assuage the criticism, the NYPD changed some of its procedural rules earlier this month, including giving journalists who had their passes revoked a chance to appeal the decision at a hearing. But the City Council Committee on Governmental Operations, however, believes the changes were not significantly changed from the previous policy.
The Council’s bill — Intro. 2118, sponsored primarily by Manhattan City Councilman Keith Powers — would shift press credential responsibilities over to the MOME, which (as its name suggests) serves as a government agency connected to media and entertainment production in the city.
“Freedom of the press is one of our country’s greatest protections. In New York City, we are taking one step further today to ensure that this protection is guaranteed,” said Powers. “My legislation ensures that we have a system for distributing press credentials that is fair, equitable, and accessible.”
The MOME will establish its own procedures for obtaining and issuing press credentials, but the legislation also prohibits police officers from summarily revoking a journalist’s press pass. Additionally, the bill establishes a hearing process for any possible suspension or revocation of a press pass, or rejection of an applicant.
Still, there’s concern among some in the press as to the impact of shifting the press credentials away from the NYPD.
Todd Maisel, vice president of the New York Press Photographer Association and former breaking news editor for amNewYork Metro, said in a letter to the City Council Committee on Governmental Operations that the move may serve to degrade the status of press credentials in the nation’s media capital.
“We thought that it was better that we had the Police Department doing the press credentials, and that was because the only people looking at the press credentials are law enforcement,” Maisel told us Thursday. “So issuing it from law enforcement and letting them vet it seems to be a better bet.”
Plenty of questions also remain about the criteria MOME will use in issuing credentials to applicants. The bill provides that the agency come up with its own procedures and regulations related to how passes are issued.
Maisel believes the MOME will wind up picking up many of the rules the NYPD had for press credentials, such as terms and conditions for their suspension and revocation. His primary concern is that the criteria isn’t eased to such an extent that just about anyone can get a press pass.
“There’s a lot of things to consider here, but I would hate for this move to be a degradation of the card,” he said. “We don’t want people who are not press to have press credentials. There’s a real concern about that.”
Nevertheless, Maisel said that the move could be “a positive step IF rules are stablished that maintain the integrity of the current NYPD-issued press card.” The association looks “forward to being a part of future discussions and decisions on the rules that must be made that go with the legislation to create a secure and legitimate working press card,” he added.
Any press credential that the NYPD previously issued will remain in effect through their listed expiration date or until 270 days after the bill takes effect, whichever is greater.
In the end, the City Council approved the measure, with 43 members supporting it against 6 opposing.
If signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, the law will take effect 270 days after his signature.