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Why these G20 media arrests should concern us all

On the day after a weekend of mayhem, it’s important to focus on those who’ve been detained, arrested or imprisoned this weekend at the G20 summit just for doing their jobs: the journalists who were in the wrong place at the wrong time or looked the wrong way.

The hundreds of citizens, onlookers, and even joggers who were detained, arrested or imprisoned should be angry and have their stories told too.

But for the sake of solid information about these events, we should really be concerned about the people who had formal G20 media accreditation issued by the federal government’s summit office and who were still kept from doing their jobs.

• CTV News Channel producer Farzad Fatholahzadeh. He says he was looking to hand off his tape to another producer behind one of the police lines Saturday afternoon, and with his media pass clearly visible, a dozen police officers approached him. They asked him what he was doing there. Fatholahzadeh says he pointed to his news truck, the police told him to relax and then arrested him. His hands were fastened with plastic ties and he was brought to the Eastern Ave. detention centre. Six hours later he was released with no charges against him.
• National Post photographers Brett Gundlock and Colin O’Connor. The two were arrested and taken into custody Saturday at about 6 p.m. while taking shots of the clashes between police and demonstrators. They were charged with obstruct peace officer and unlawful assembly. They spent 24 hours in custody at the Eastern Ave. detention centre.
• Canadian Press reporter Terry Pedwell. He was detained for two hours in Huntsville while covering the G8 meeting, after police found he was carrying a standard-issue (for reporters covering demonstrations) gas mask in his trunk.
Jesse Rosenfeld a Canadian freelance journalist based in Ramallah. He was covering what had been a peaceful demonstration on the Esplanade when two police officers grabbed him at about 11 p.m. He did not have an official media accreditation, but that’s no excuse for the abuse he suffered. The case is getting widespread publicity because TVO host Steve Paikin witnessed and tweeted about it. The following are Paikin’s tweets during the arrest and beating:
“they repeated they would arrest me if i didn’t leave. as i was escorted away from the demonstration, i saw two officers hold a journalist.” https://twitter.com/spaikin/status/17137794505
“the journalist identified himself as working for “the guardian.” he talked too much and pissed the police off. two officers held him….”https://twitter.com/spaikin/status/17137826780
“a third punched him in the stomach. totally unnecessary. the man collapsed. then the third officer drove his elbow into the man’s back.” https://twitter.com/spaikin/status/17137863106
“the officer who escorted me away from the demo said, “yeah, that shouldn’t have happened.” he is correct. there was no cause for it.” https://twitter.com/spaikin/status/17137918390
the demonstration on the esplanade was peaceful. it was like an old sit in. no one was aggressive. and yet riot squad officers moved in. https://twitter.com/spaikin/status/17138017712
Let’s get beyond the burning cars and smashed-in windows. Those acts of hooliganism come with G20 summits and they are completely predictable. By all accounts, the police simply let the cars burn and the windows be smashed. They were even lauded for their restraint by some. It was later Saturday and through the day Sunday that became really crazy. Because that’s when police, possibly frustrated at being ineffective with the Black Bloc when they were rioting, turned on activists, onlookers and just plain regular people randomly, people who happened to be in the way at the wrong time. Including journalists doing their job.

There will be many official reports filed about this weekend of protest in Toronto. I ask that at least a portion of those reports be reserved for coming up with better ways to allow accredited journalists do their jobs – whether or not the situation is uncontrolled and frantic. If we go through the hassle of formal accreditation, let’s make sure it means something when it really matters.

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