Editorial: Press has right not to be harassed
If you go on the Internet, you can find dozens of photos of Mount McGregor prison in Wilton, taken from every angle imaginable, including inside cells.
If you use the Map/Satellite function on Google, you can zoom in to an overhead shot of the entire prison campus, complete with images of inmates playing basketball in the barbed-wire-enclosed courtyard.
The former medium-security prison, which a year ago held more than 450 inmates, is now completely empty due to a state cost-cutting move, save for the crews removing office furniture and sweeping the floors.
So when a corrections lieutenant on Thursday threatened Channel 13 reporter Mark Mulholland with arrest for filming a feature about Grant's Cottage with the prison in the background, it was not out of any security concerns. It was done because the officer felt he was entitled.
It's a problem that many members of the press and the general public face every day from people in authority who think they have carte blanche to order people around without due cause.
Reporters and news photographers are often unnecessarily harassed and kept from doing their jobs by police, firefighters and corrections officers. There certainly are legitimate reasons for officials at scenes to keep the public and the press at bay at times, such as for the individuals' own safety, the privacy of victims and security of the scene.
But many other times, their actions are not to ensure privacy or security, but for no other justification than because these individuals felt they had the authority and right to keep the public in the dark.
It's not only members of the media — for whom the general public generally have no sympathy — that are victims of this harassment.
Ordinary citizens have had their cellphones confiscated by police for videotaping arrests, crime scenes, demonstrations and police beatings, even when those citizens were standing behind the police tape or on public streets.
The reporter at the prison the other day wasn't breaking into prison grounds. He wasn't clambering up the mountainside for some secret footage to help an inmate escape. He was standing on a public road outside a state historic site doing a feature.
If the officer had politely asked him to direct his camera in another direction, the reporter might have complied. Mark Mulholland isn't a Hard Copy reporter. He's a reasonable, pleasant guy. In fact, after being approached by the officer, he offered to do just that.
Yet the officer felt justified in intimidating him, attempting to confiscate his video, and threatening to send him to jail, in violation of his First Amendment right to report the news.
The New York State Associated Press Association has condemned the reporter’s treatment and demanded an apology and investigation. That’s the least the state could do.
It's gotten out of hand. The press shouldn't stand for this. And neither should the public.