Following the detention of at least six journalists at a protest Thursday, Bay Area Rapid Transit officials have proposed new guidelines for media that would create a designated area in the station for reporters to cover protests.
The idea is to have reporters stand behind a line to ensure their safety and make it easier for BART police to differentiate protesters from the media, according to BART spokesperson Jim Allison.
Allison said a media barrier would reduce the risk of reporters being detained in a situation like that of San Francisco Chronicle reporter Vivian Ho, who was detained during last Thursday’s protest after being identified by Allison as a Chronicle reporter. Ho said she was detained for about 15 minutes as police reviewed her press badge.
She added that it is important that the media are present at protests to cover the actions of protesters and police alike.
“The press needs to be there for both sides,” she said. “We’re keeping both sides accountable.”
Before the recent wave of protests — in response to the fatal shooting of vagrant Charles Hill on July 3 and the transportation agency’s decision to cut cellphone service during an Aug. 11 protest — BART officials were familiar with certain members of the media and did not consistently check press passes, according to BART Director Lynette Sweet. Now that there are so many new reporters covering protests, it has been more difficult for officials to differentiate protesters from reporters, Sweet said.
Stephen Proctor, managing editor of the Chronicle, said creating a zone for the media can be helpful and is sometimes necessary.
“As long as a journalist is able to witness the story unfold, reasonable controls are fine and necessary,” Proctor said.
He added that a protest situation is comparable to an event like a fire, in which reporters would be asked to stand at a certain distance for safety reasons. However, he said, such restrictions should not prevent journalists from doing their jobs.
“A situation (like Thursday’s) — reporters being handcuffed in the course of their duties — those things are unnecessary and unacceptable,” he said.
Jim Naureckas, editor of Extra — a magazine published by media-watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting — said he was more skeptical of BART’s intention to create a media zone during protests.
Naureckas said it is similar to the idea of shutting down phone and social media communication on public transportation — an “absurd idea” and an attempt to keep people from knowing what the government is doing.
“The best way to keep journalists from being detained is to not detain them,” he said.