The San Francisco Police Department has revoked press passes from several online news outlets after receiving complaints from major media organizations. The online journalists are calling for an agency that’s separate from police to decide who should receive the passes.
Blogger Michael Petrelis appears to be the first journalist to report that police were revoking press passes, and his report includes an e-mail from Lt. Troy Dangerfield explaining the revocation. Here’s a link to the SF Appeal’s report. Independent journalist Josh Wolf has looked into the problem and sent the Press Club the following report:
- While police policy specifically states that press passes are reserved for outlets that regularly cover fires and breaking police news, these official passes also allow reporters access to government events and entitle them to sit in the press section during Board of Supervisor meetings.
- “I was literally in shock when they were saying that I wouldn’t be able to use my press pass,” said Bill Wilson, a freelance photographer who has covered San Francisco for more than five years, and used his press pass to cover President Barack Obama’s flight into San Francisco International Airport.
Lt. Troy Dangerfield, a police spokesman, told me that although the police hold press conferences in a room that’s big enough to hold every interested reporter, other facilities, such as the room the mayor uses for press conferences, are much smaller. People from the major networks complained that they were being crowded out by their independent counterparts, and the police department responded by revoking the press passes of any reporters who hadn’t recently covered a breaking news story involving the police or fire departments, said Dangerfield.
- Reporting for the San Francisco Sentinel, one of several outlets now without a police-issued press pass, Pat Murphy writes that Dangerfield told him the complaints were “from, but not limited to, KGO and KTVU.”
- But when reached by phone, both KGO-TV news director Kevin Keeshan and KTVU senior assignment editor Tony Bonilla were adamant that their stations never requested the police revoke anyone’s press passes.
- When asked about the conflicting stories, Dangerfield said that all he told Murphy was the complaints came from “the major media.” He said that he cited only KGO and KTVU as examples of major media, and that he never suggested they were the specific source of the complaint.
- Dangerfield would not identify the media outlets that complained. He said they had approached him in confidence, and he would only tell me it was “major news organizations and individuals.”
- When I suggested that the information should be available under the California Public Records Act, Dangerfield implied my request would likely be fruitless and compared it to requesting the identity of someone who tips off the police to a crime. In this case the crime would be abusing the police press pass, he suggested.
- Dangerfield said that the passes issued by his department could potentially be abused by dishonest reporters and said that the passes can even be used to get discount tickets to Disneyland.
- He said that any reporters who want to have their press pass reinstated simply must begin covering fires and police events. Dangerfield said that this is the purpose of the police press pass, and that journalists can always print their own press passes to help identify themselves as reporters.
- He said that the police press passes are not designed to gain access to events at City Hall and that other city agencies are free to create their own press accreditation procedures.
- But Dangerfield offered no evidence that the major media’s complaints had anything to do with their struggle to cover fires or other incidents involving the police — the specified function of the passes. Instead, he said mainstream media complained to him that “we always have to be in the back,” a gripe far more common during scheduled press conferences than when news breaks.