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City of Eugene to require media identification?

The City of Eugene Police Commission's Committee on Media Access is discussing whether to require ID badges for media.
Members of the City of Eugene Police Commission's Committee on Media Access Issues met Thursday and continued their discussion about the relationship between police and media in the city. The committee seems to be moving closer to making a recommendation that members of the media sport visible "press pass" ID badges when engaged in reporting at a scene of any incident in which police are involved. Currently, the Eugene Police Department acts under General Order 240.1 (March 2000) which states that "all members of the media, whether they posess news media credentials or simply assert that they are members of the media, will be treated equally" (emphasis added) at such scenes. That is, currently no press pass is required. This order creates a de facto policy that is possibly the most progressive of its kind in the state, insofar as it makes no distinction between corporate and alternative media. The order was a reaction to tensions that had arisen between the Eugene police and both alternative and corporate media in town, and bases its broad interpretation of "who is media" on Oregon State Law, which defines media as "any person connected to, employed by, or engaged in any medium of communication to the public" [ORS 44.520].

The purpose of the commission and committee's exploration of these issues has been misunderstood by some members of the community in Eugene. The commission is not attempting to define "who is media", and is satisfied with the current definition as outlined in General Order 240.1. The process has so far also been quite open. The city employee who works with the commission, Jeannine Parisi, will keep any member of the media up-to-date on meeting times and agendas at request. People from the U of O Journalism School, the ACLU, the National Lawyers' Guild, and the Society of Professional Journalists have been involved in the discussions so far, besides members of the corporate and alternative media.

That being said, the commission seems to be "leaning strongly", to use one commissioner's words, toward requiring members of the media to wear an ID badge in order to be recognized by the police as media, and recieve the equal treatment the commission desires. Members of the commission were also not open to the idea of recognizing as media those members of the public who both participate in a street action and report on it. One commissioner suggested that such "flip flopping" preclude such individuals from being recognized as media, especially if police deliver a dispersal order. This attitude runs contrary to the philosophy of Indymedia, which, through its open publishing newswire, allows anyone to be the media, whether they were standing aside as "press" or in the thick of the heat, masked, chanting slogans and setting fire to dumpsters.

Members of the committee and the police in attendance seemed concerned that members of the media not break any laws, and that they would be safer if they did not.

Lt. Becky Hanson of the Eugene Police Department shared law enforcement concerns with the committee (which contains citizens only and no police). Hanson said that the police need to limit media access in certain cases in order to avoid the "escalation" of an action that can occur in the presence of cameras, or when an entire area needs to be cleared in order to protect prople or property from those breaking the law or who seem likely to break the law. Hanson also claimed that the department currently gives special access to media in general, allowing them to "take risks they wouldn't allow the public to take", and has helped facilitate media access for people involved in civil disobedience. Hanson said it is not always easy for the police to recognize who is media and who is not. She did, however, mention that the department is following Geneal Order 204.1's criteria for "who is media" though it is not a formalized policy yet.

On the broader topic of media access, and specifically how to behave after a dispersal order has been given, the commission discussed General Order 801.1, "Large Scale Incidents", which states in part that "any police order given to disperse or to leave a particular area will apply to all people, including news media representatives, unless the person giving the order specifically exempts them." The order mentions that "specially designated" areas might then be set up for media personnel. More than one member of the committee was dissatisfied with this order, and suggested recommending that the police department change the sentence to: "Any police order given to disperse or to leave a particular area will apply to all people, excluding news media representatives, unless the person giving the order specifically includes them." Lt. Hanson said that she could bring this recommended change in wording back to the department, and perhaps the order could be rewritten, but that the policy as executed will not change. "I know it won't happen in practicality," she said. Officers delivering the dispersal orders will simply add, "including all media" to their warnings, and nothing would be different.

Recommendations made by this committee could have serious consequences not only in Eugene but around the state if used as a precedent. Policies regarding the relationship of police and media have become especially important since September 11, as basic civil liberties have come under increasing attack; this is an important local issue to watch. Indymedia contributors were the only media in attendance at this meeting.

The committee is soliciting opinion from various quarters on whether and how a policy requiring ID badges should be implemented, and has invited Indymedia to submit its recommendations by December 14. The two questions to answer: Is there a need for the City of Eugene or its police department to require ID badges from media? and, Who would do it and how would it be done?

You may send written comments to:

Eugene Police Commission
777 Pearl Street, Room 105
Eugene, OR 97401
FAX (541) 682-8395

Or better yet: Make your voice heard here on this website, and your comments will be forwarded to the committee.

The next meetings of the committee are Dec. 6, Dec. 20, and Jan. 6. Each meeting is at 1:00 p.m. and will be in the Atrium Building at 10th & Olive in downtown Eugene.