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G8/G20 Communique: Journalists attacked by police at G20 protests

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"Journalists under attack / what do we do? / Stand up, fight back!"

Journalists (and/or people with video or picture cameras) were under attack at the G20 protests in Toronto in a two front war.

First, I saw Black Bloc activists rough-up a few corporate journalists on Saturday June 25, 2010, as they marched through the downtown core, including cameras that got sprayed with that sticky, silly string stuff. Black Bloc activists also pushed camera people back who got too close to their property destruction tactics, media who were trying to catch the faces of those conducting the property damage and media who tried to videotape the Bloc's quick change tactics.

But I'm not going to cast the Black Bloc as the villains here.

What deeply disturbs me is the police's treatment of the media, where journalists were outright attacked by the police(=state).

I figure that I got off lightly, to be honest, since I was only detained and had my photos blanked from my media card and had that card handed back to me all broken.

Stories from journalists who were harassed, beaten, attacked and arrested by the Integrated Security Unit (ISU) are starting to roll in. And media types who are used to covering the story are finding themselves part of the story -- part of a larger narrative of police misconduct and brutality over the G20 weekend.

I know some readers might not have much sympathy for corporate media, but what happens to journalists while on assignment matters regardless of who they work for.

As with any other affinity group, we the media have to stick together in solidarity. When the cops prevent us -- through threats of violence and/or actual violence -- from telling the story, red flags should go up: "Why don't they want us to cover what's happening? What are they trying to hide?"

The concept of "The whole world is watching" needs to be protected. Freedom of the press is the democratic right of the public.

I actually think one of the best evolutions in the social justice movement has been the huge jump in the number of cameras and video cameras at demonstrations, and the use of communication tools such as Twitter.

Accredited and citizen journalists alike are on the front lines recording the protests both for public knowledge and police accountability. The former "he said/she said" unverifiable police complaint system is being replaced by raw footage documentation of incidences of police misconduct. 

You see, the presence of journalists adds an extra layer of protection for demonstrators and democracy (since taxpayers fund the police and the police are ultimately accountable to us). Society as a whole should be nervous when media is directly attacked by the police(=state), or prevented from covering the story.

I'm including arrest and detention to the list of acts that prevent journalists from covering the story. It may be obvious to some people but let me state anyway: physically removing journalists from the event prevents them from not only covering that story, but holding them for hours also neutralizes their ability to cover other events to come.

Arrest and detention also gives the police the opportunity to search through a journalist's bag, and gives them access to any media card or film, with the purpose of destroying the photos if they so choose (the same holds true with voice recorders, notebooks and contact lists).

Four journalists have lodged official complaints with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director over allegations of police brutality during the G20 summit:

-- Jesse Rosenfeld, who writes for the Guardian, alleges that he was "punched in the stomach (and) back and this caused [him] to collapse."

-- Amy Miller, a Montreal-based freelance filmmaker, alleges she was "held in a small cage with 25 other women" and was "subjected to threats of sexual violence."

-- Daniel Adam McIsaac, who was covering the summit for the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, says he was "assaulted," denied access to legal counsel and had more than $6,000 worth of equipment seized.

-- Lisa Walter of Our Times magazine claims to have been "jumped" by officers and "thrown to the ground" and that she was held in a cramped holding cage and given only minimal amounts of water.

Looking deeper into the case of Jesse Rosenfeld, he claims he was beaten while being arrested in front of the Novotel Hotel during a peaceful, sit-in style protest early Sunday morning.

Steve Paikin from TVO's The Agenda witnessed the incident and tweeted:

"It was like an old sit-in. No one was aggressive, and yet riot squad officers moved in."

"as I was escorted away from the demonstration, I saw two officers hold a journalist."

"The journalist identified himself as working for the Guardian."

"He talked too much and pissed the police off. Two officers held him. A third punched him in the stomach. Totally unnecessary. The man collapsed. Then the third officer drove his elbow into the man's back."

"this guy is about 5-foot-4, 140 pounds. I later spoke to his father and found out he's only got one kidney, and he's an asthmatic. Hard to see how he was a threat to anything."

Here's a list of some other incidents of alleged police violence against members of the press.

-- Jesse Freetom, a REAL NEWS journalist says he was punched in the face Friday June 25, 2010 while covering the Justice for Our Communities march and had his microphone temporarily confiscated. This happened right after he filmed the arrest of a protester who happened to be deaf.

[Note: Emomotimi Azorbo has been charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest, though during the arrest his friends pleaded with the police that he could not have heard the police's orders to move since the cops were standing behind him. Azorbo was held for hours at the detention centre without access to an independent ASL interpreter, a failure that the Canadian Hearing Society's Gary Malkowski says violates Azorbo's basic human rights.]

-- Cameron Fenton working for The Dominion in Montreal was arrested outside the Novotel Hotel and spent more than 17 hours in the Eastern Avenue detention centre before finally being released.

-- Scott Stephens, a photographer, working for mediaINDIGENA was arrested Sunday June 27, 2010 and taken to the Eastern Avenue detention centre, where he was held overnight. He was eventually released without charges.

-- Independent journalist, Brandon Jourdan, claims he was beaten by police at Queen's Park on Saturday June 26, 2010. Props to Brandon for keeping his camera rolling.

-- Adam MacIsaac (one of the four who launched an official complaint), an independent journalist from P.E.I., was held down by police who he claims kicked him in the ribs and shot him with a stun-gun even though he shouted he had a pacemaker. MacIsaac was eventually taken to St. Joseph's Hospital where he was handcuffed to a hospital bed before being returned to the detention centre where he was held for seven hours. He has no idea what happened to his $6,000 worth of camera equipment

-- Two National Post photographers -- Brett Gundlock (staff photographer) and Colin O'Connor (freelancer working for the Post) were arrested Saturday night around Queen's Park. Colin O'Connor has been charged with obstructing a peace officer and unlawful assembly.

-- A CTV News cameraman was detained along with 200 activists on Sunday night at Queen Street and Spadina Avenue. He was later released without charges. CTV's Lisa Laflamme and other journalists covering the mass arrest at the intersection were told to leave the area by police early on, though no activists were given that choice.

-- A CTV news channel producer, Farzad Fatholahzad, was arrested while covering the protests Saturday night and was taken to the detention centre. Fatholahzad was later released without charges and without knowing what the arrest was for.

-- Torontoist journalist Wyndham Bettencourt-McCarthy claims she was struck by a police officer with a baton.

-- Liem Vu, an intern with the National Post, was detained by police for four hours at the corner of Queen Street and Spadina Avenue.  

-- Lisan Jutras, a Globe and Mail journalist, was detained by police for four hours at the corner of Queen Street and Spadina Avenue.

-- Journalists registered with the Alternative Media Centre (AMC) report they were subjected to mass illegal searches and detentions. Eight AMC journalists were arrested without charge and one was arrested for breach of peace.

I can't help but think about the famous Martin Niemöller poem about the Holocaust:

First they came for the activists, then they came for the media...

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