The worldwide wave of protests in 2011 also swept through the New World. It dragged the United States (47th) and Chile (80th) down the index, costing them 27 and 47 places respectively. The crackdown on protest movements and the accompanying excesses took their toll on journalists. In the space of two months in the United States, more than 25 were subjected to arrests and beatings at the hands of police who were quick to issue indictments for inappropriate behaviour, public nuisance or even lack of accreditation.
In Chile, where student protesters questioned the over-concentration of media ownership, violence against journalists included beatings, cyber-attacks and attacks on editorial staffs. Many of these assaults, often accompanied by heavy-handed arrests and destruction of equipment, were carried out by abusive armed police who were rarely called to account.
According to Reporters Without Borders country report on Chile:
The Chilean media suffer from an extraordinary concentration of ownership, in fact, most of them are owned by just two companies, Copesa, which publishes the daily newspaper La Tercera, and El Mercurio, which publishes the daily of the same name. The state provides them with 5 million dollars in subsidies each year, to the detriment of the independent media. Established during Gen. Pinochet’s dictatorship, this subsidy system has not been changed since the return to democracy….
The major demonstrations in the course of 2011 by students and opponents of the HydroAysén plans for five hydro-electric dams in Patagonia were partially fuelled by public disenchantment with the lack of real media pluralism and the perception that the mainstream media are too supportive of the government. Marcela Rodríguez, a young woman photographer for the Mapuexpress website, was arrested in a heavy-handed fashion along with 10 other people during a protest against the HydroAysén project in the southern city of Temuco in May 2011. She was facing a fine and 300-day jail sentence on a charge of disturbing public order until she was acquitted eight days later.
Jennifer Wentz-Graff was released without charge after being arrested during a demonstration outside the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. Cagle was held for a total of 14 hours in two different detention centres, and was charged with unlawful assembly, after being arrested in Oakland, California. She is due to appear in court in December.
During the previous week’s demonstrations in Oakland, police fired a rubber bullet at video-reporter Scott Campbell, 30, during a confrontation with protesters. Reported by the local press on 7 November, the incident has embarrassed the authorities, including the police, who have admitted to an “unprovoked and inappropriate use of force.”
When 11 members of the Occupy Orlando collective were arrested during a protest in Orlando, Florida, on 6 November, two of the collective’s media team were among those detained, depriving the movement of video coverage of the event.
John Meador of the Nashville Scene Reporter was arrested during a demonstration outside the state capitol in Nashville, Tennessee, on 30 October despite showing his press badge twice. He is now facing charges of “criminal trespass” and “public intoxication.”
The judicial fate of journalists who were arrested during the big initial Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in New York was equally varied. Detained for eight hours on 24 September because he had no press credential, John Farley of the magazine MetroFocus was acquitted on a charge of “disorderly conduct” on 2 November. But two journalists who were arrested on 1 October – New York Times stringer Natasha Lennard and Kristen Gwynne of the AlterNet website – were not so lucky.
Related post and story:
Freedom for Chilean Newspapers
How to Be Arrested In Chile Without Breaking the Law