Press Freedom in America

From the Reporters san Frontieres 2003 Global Press Freedom report on America.

The US also changed its visa policy. The rule that working journalists must have a visa, once ignored by immigration officials, is now strictly enforced. As a result, 15 foreign journalists were deported on arrival. It was hard to call this a deliberate restriction of press freedom in view of the subjects these journalists were writing about, but application of the rule is disturbing.
They were treated like criminals, interrogated, searched, detained, photographed, fingerprinted and taken to planes in handcuffs – to prevent immigration officers being injured, according to one official. Some of the journalists watched as colleagues, also without journalist visas, passed through immigration without problem. Such deportations, nearly all of them at Los Angeles airport, may have been a case of over-zealous local police.

Alexandre Alfonsi, of the French weekly Tele 7 Jours, was refused entry into the country on 10 May at Los Angeles airport for not having a journalist visa. Stephanie Pic and Michel Perrot, of the French weeklies Télé Poche and TV Hebdo, who had just passed through immigration without any problem even though they did not have such visas either, tried vainly to get an explanation. All three were then arrested and held for nearly 26 hours. They were freed the next day after being repeatedly questioned and body-searched six times. An official told Alfonsi he would never be allowed back into the country. The three journalists had come to report on a video games trade fair. [Emphasis added]

5 thoughts on “Press Freedom in America”

  1. It’s not just the States where this repressive line of immigration control exists. I had a proper PRESS card from the National Union of Journalists, my local voting card, and photo ID from several Irish entities but was refused leave to land in Ireland after showing all of them to Irish immigration. It seems that journos are not proper tourists, even if they claim to be on holiday.

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  2. I may be misunderstanding, Bernie, but were they looking for a proper press visa, or for a residency permit? It must have been difficult to claim to be a visitor with the local voting card and local IDs!

    I think what’s catching the European journalists off-guard right now is that these are brief reporting trips with no intention of staying–and the US has never questioned that before. That’s why they’re blithely telling immigration officials all about their “holiday” plans.

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  3. The Irish authorities were looking for a work permit and would not honour valid NUJ Press credentials in lieu of it. As things unfolded, entrance to the EU via Heathrow was much simpler as the immigration authorities there respected the NUJ card in conjunction with my American passport. I’m not contending that (1) Irish authorities can refuse leave to land when they think they believe a work permit is required of a person and (2) the US treats journos with a heavier hand than European immigration officials.

    At the end of a little snag, I simply returned to Kilkenny through another door. Subsequently, I’ve walked through Irish immigration without a bother. On one occasion, I wasn’t even asked for a passport. They saw my Brown Thomas bag and assumed I was local.

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  4. I suspect the U.S. explanation is a simple “9-11” change. I believe you have elsewhere noted what a pain it is now to get a visa.

    Besides, most video game players are a little weird. Reporters who cover such things may well be rather suspicious in their demeanor. 😉

    And finally, I once was an American newspaper journalist. Everyone I worked well, plus self, were a pretty shabby looking lot. Following 9-11 I can think of several old friends who today would be vacationing at Guantanamo Bay.

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  5. By the by, our Constitution guarantees freedom of the press only to those of the American press. 😉

    Foreign so-called journalists are welcome here no more than other citizens and their rights under Our Constititution are limited to those we specificially bestow on them.

    The fact they’ve had the luxury of near equality with the rights of our own press for years does not mean it’s a right to which they are in anyway entitled.

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