By Richard Knee
Local 39521 VP-CA
The expulsion of 48 Hills reporter Sana Saleem from a San Francisco Police Department press conference on Jan. 18 has prompted Guild Freelancers co-chair David Bacon to send a protest letter reminding Police Chief William Scott and Mayor Ed Lee that field officers and office staff must respect the constitutional rights of all journalists including freelancers such as Saleem.
Saleem has been writing about the SFPD for a year and never had a problem gaining entry to the department’s press events until Jan. 18. In fact, on that day, she was initially admitted to the venue, at police headquarters, where officials played a body-camera recording of an officer shooting Sean Moore, an unarmed 43-year-old, during a standoff at his Ocean View home earlier in the month.
But before the press conference began, a police spokeswoman ordered Saleem out on the specious grounds that 48 Hills does not publish in print and she did not have a SFPD-issued press credential (she does have a 48 Hills photo ID). Meanwhile, non-journalists, including some from the activist group Code Pink, were allowed to stay.
“There was no legitimate reason for suddenly questioning (Saleem’s) presence,” Bacon said in his letter, which was copied to the Board of Supervisors and District Attorney George Gascón, among others. “The SFPD has no right to determine which media outlets it considers legitimate and which it does not. It has no right to discriminate against freelance media workers, many of whom belong to our union. Other organizations besides the SFPD issue press passes, including our union. We demand they be given the same respect, whether in a press conference or at the scene of events that media workers are trying to cover. … A photo-ID card from a professional or college news outlet, or from an organization representing freelance journalists provides sufficient information for emergency-response personnel.
“Any guidelines issued by the SFPD for relations with media workers must comply with the U.S. Constitution and its guarantees of free press and free speech contained in the First Amendment,” Bacon wrote. “We will be watching to ensure that the department follows the law. We intend to hold you accountable.”
For Saleem, this was not the first episode of mistreatment at the hands of law enforcement. Last May, she and another journalist had to be hospitalized after they and two colleagues were assaulted by sheriff’s deputies while covering a protest rally inside San Francisco City Hall.
The latest incident has gained the attention of at least one member of the Board of Supervisors, Aaron Peskin, who has asked the city attorney’s office to draft legislation that would shift press-credentialing authority from the SFPD to a new, independent panel.
The Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California chapter, also has protested Saleem’s expulsion from the Jan. 18 press conference.