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PEN American Center calls for press freedom at Occupy Wall Street sites

(PEN American Center/IFEX) - New York City, November 15, 2011 - PEN American Center and PEN International today condemned restrictions on press coverage of police crackdowns on Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in New York and elsewhere, calling the arrests of journalists, the grounding of media helicopters, and the restrictions on access to the Occupy sites "an obvious abridgement of the First Amendment right of all Americans to monitor official actions that clearly carry their own First Amendment concerns."

"Whatever the arguments for clearing and cleaning the park, denying the rest of us the opportunity to witness the police action through the independent reporting of a free media simply reinforces the suspicion that the city government is seeking to hide from democratic scrutiny," said Kwame Anthony Appiah, president of PEN American Center. "It is foolish and dangerous to undermine the faith of ordinary citizens in the impartiality of the police. It is also wrong to deny media access because it runs entirely against the spirit of the First Amendment guarantees that are at the heart of PEN's mission."

Early Tuesday morning, police barred reporters from news outlets including CNBC, NBC, CBS, The Wall Street Journal, and Reuters from covering the clearing of Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, which has been occupied by protesters for over two months. Freelancers seemed to be particularly at risk; Julie Walker, who is reporting on the protests for NPR, was arrested and released late Tuesday morning, and Jared Malsin, a freelancer for the New York Times, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. Others were forcefully removed from the park or handled roughly by police.

Journalists covering Occupy Wall Street protests have been arrested before, but this seems to be the first time that Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered what amounts to a blockade of the press, saying that it was for their own protection. This morning's actions mirror the arrests and media blackouts at other Occupy sites around the country, including Milwaukee, Nashville, and Oakland, where a cameraman was attacked and left with a concussion.

"At a time when freedom of expression is under threat worldwide, this denial of media access and restriction on press coverage is shameful and undemocratic," said Laura McVeigh, executive director of PEN International. "It sends the wrong signal to the American people and to the rest of the world."

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