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CPD to enforce repressive media credentialing measure

While the Headline Club supports the idea of accrediting the media, we
question the City of Chicago's right to determine who is a journalist.
March 4, 2002

Dear Mr. Daley:

It is with great concern that the Chicago Headline Club, the local
professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, learned of
the Chicago Police Department's decision to change regulations governing
press credentials.

The department plans to enforce a city code provision (Chapter 4-328 of the
Municipal Code of the City of Chicago) that has been on the books for decades
but never has been enforced. Had the Headline Club known of the code's
existence, we would have asked for a review immediately. We do so now.

After conducting research and consulting with our attorney, Jon A. Duncan,
the Headline Club has a series of concerns:

1) In other jurisdictions, most recently Omaha, Neb., in November 2001,
police dropped plans to fingerprint reporters for background checks. The
department decided that doing so amounted to "licensing of the news media,"
according to the Reporters' Committee for the Freedom of the Press.
Background checks are not mentioned in the Chicago ordinance, but Police News
Affairs personnel have told Headline Club officials that such checks would be
"likely," with the possibility that credentials could be denied. We question
the constitutionality of such undertakings.

2) Fingerprinting and possible background checks constitute a possible
invasion of privacy.

3) We are neither employees nor contractors of the government, but act
independently to report and critique the government for the public's benefit.
The regulations could have a chilling effect on our work.

4) The ordinance is clearly dated. It makes no mention of television, cable
or online journalism. It instead allows for "news-reel" photographers, a
breed extinct for at least 40 years.

5) The ordinance makes no provision for part-time or freelance journalists.

While the Headline Club supports the idea of accrediting the media, we
question the City of Chicago's right to determine who is a journalist.

We support the broadest possible access for those who are employed full or
part-time.

We urge you to table the Police Department's plans until this ordinance is
revised. We believe that the Superintendent of Police lacks the legal
authority to unilaterally establish rules and procedures for the issuance of
media credentials. We ask you to appoint a five-member "advisory committee on
news credentials" as outlined by Section 040. The ordinance states that this
committee shall consist of three media representatives, one each from radio,
newspapers and press associations (We believe television and online news
organizations should be included as well). The ordinance also states that
rules and procedures regarding press credentials must be proposed by the
committee -- of which the Superintendent is only one member. The committee
should review the ordinance and determine how it can be enforced in ways
acceptable both to journalism organizations and to the Chicago Police
Department.

We urge you to act quickly because current press credentials are due to
expire in March. We would appreciate the chance to sit down with you, or your
designated representatives, at your earliest convenience to discuss our
concerns.

Sincerely,


Christine Tatum
President, Chicago Headline Club
 
 

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