TESTIMONY OF Jane Tillman Irving
President of the New York Press Club
Before the New York City Police Department (NYPD) on Proposed Rule Changes Governing the Suspension or Revocation of Press Credentials
Public Hearing – August 18, 2020
Good Day. My name is Jane Tillman Irving. I’m President of the New York Press Club, a membership organization of news professionals founded nearly 75 years ago  to represent the interests of all journalists in New York City. I’m here because my organization and I are alarmed – and that is not too strong a word – by the proposed changes in the New York City Rules regarding the suspension or revocation of press credentials.
While the NYPD and the press have many times of necessity operated as adversaries, there also has been an understanding the we both have jobs to do to keep the public informed and safe.
Recently the adversarial positions have deepened as citizens took to the streets in protest, and we have seen a increase in apparent police retaliation against both demonstrators and newspeople trying to tell their stories; it is as if, as the New York Times put it in an editorial [on July 15th], the NYPD wants to “punish journalists.”
In response to that editorial, the New York Press Club wrote that in addition to violation of the First Amendment – reason enough to oppose allowing the NYPD to summarily suspend or revoke a journalist’s credentials – there is also a violation of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. Revoking press credentials upon arrest or “being perceived not to be complying with police orders” presumesguilt.
We have seen reporters in New York City and beyond manhandled, attacked, and arrested – one in Minneapolis, memorably, on live TV.
The NYPD wants broader powers to keep journalists behind barriers, farther away from the action, and it’s not always a matter of safety; more and more, it appears to be retributive and retaliatory, perhaps a reflection of the hostility toward the press emanating from the highest office in the land.
If I may speak personally for a minute, this “bouquet” of press credentials represents more than 30 years of my own career as a reporter in New York City, in print, radio – most of it at WCBS 880 – and television. A lot happened during that time – five mayors, and riots, shootings, hostage situations, important visitors –and through much of it, the press had access. Of course it was a different era … metal detectors were all but unknown, and the back door of City Hall stood casually unlocked and frequently open until about 6 p.m. We knew, as it said on the back of our press cards, that they could be “taken up at any time,” but the point is, they almost never were.
At a time when news operations are shrinking, and local news, the most immediate level of what we like to call “the first draft of history,” is becoming more and more constrained, we cannot have more restrictions placed on the operation of a free press, the bedrock of our democracy. We urge the NYPD to reconsider and reject these proposals.