NYPD under attack
Student journalist denied press pass, claims discrimination
NEW YORK — New York City police officials may have broken the law.
By rejecting a student reporter’s application for press credentials in May on the basis that he worked for a student publication, officials at the department’s Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Public Information (DCPI) may have engaged in unlawful discrimination.
Daniel Sorid, a staff reporter for the Columbia Daily Spectator, had applied for the working press pass which would have permitted the Columbia University student to have access to crime sites, fires, protests and press conferences.
“Our paper, which has a circulation of 10,000, is the only daily newspaper committed to covering emergency news in our neighborhood, Morningside Heights,” he said. “The police have no right to treat us like boy and girl scouts. We are seeking the same rights of access given to our colleagues in larger papers, like the Daily News, the New York Post and the New York Times.”
Sorid has covered a murder, sexual assault, and a man’s death at a bus stop for the 122- year-old paper. He said the only reason the police officers rejected his application is because the Spectator is a student-run paper.
“On several occasions I, and other reporters from my paper, have been told by police spokespersons that they ‘don’t have to deal with student reporters,’” Sorid said. “Our community relies on us to report on real news that happens in the area. This is a clear freedom of the press issue that I am confident would, if necessary, be settled by a court of law.”
Carolyn James, the New York “Sunshine” Committee chairperson for the Society of Professional Journalists, said the police department should not be deciding who is a fit journalist and who is not.
“We understand that we, as journalists, are given a privilege not given to the public,” she said. “But if the New York Police Department is going to have a policy to give these passes to journalists, they can1t arbitrarily discriminate against one newspaper or another.”
Since Sorid was a paid staff member, covering neighborhood issues for a newspaper financially independent of the university, James said “the police department is clearly out of line” for rejecting his application.
Marilyn Mode, deputy commissioner for public information at the department, acknowledged that “yes,” the department sees a difference in student-run newspapers compared to professional ones.
However, she did not want to comment further on the issue, stating only that department officials will continue to discuss the issue with Sorid.
But because the department did not issue a formal rejection letter, Sorid said he can not appeal the decision through police channels.
“Without anything in writing, I have nothing with which to base my appeal,” he said. “Legal precedents have established that press credential issuing agencies must issue a written response to rejected applicants if such a document is requested.”
Natasha Sidhari, a departmental staff person, said the department has a policy to respond in writing.
“If you don’t qualify, we provide a written denial,” she said.
Sidhari also said the department frequently issues a large number of two types of press credentials.
“There are 10,000 press passes out there,” she said. “There are two types. Non-emergency gives a press ID to attend things like movie premieres and parades. Emergency for the working press allows for the crossing of police lines.”
Sorid, who applied for the emergency credentials, said if the department has a deliberate policy to keep student journalists from obtaining credentials, he will pursue a lawsuit.
“Journalists from student newspapers are no less journalists than those from larger papers,” he said.
Besides James at the Society of Professional Journalists, officials from the National Press Club, the New York American Civil Liberties Union and the Student Press Law Center have written letters backing Sorid.
“I put in my request nearly two months ago, and I can only assume the NYPD is stalling in hope that I lose interest,” Sorid said. “I can assure them I will not.”
Fall 1998, reports