Monday, February 28, 2005

What’s a journalist and what special rights should they get? Those questions are up for debate at a 2 p.m. City Hall hearing today on press passes issued by the San Francisco Police Department. … The hearing comes as the police department continues a two-year old policy of closely scrutinizing applicants for its official passes. SFPD since last year has declined to renew more than 130 expired passes, including to journalists from CNBC and Bloomberg News. … About 700 valid credentials are in circulation, down from a high of nearly 1,900. … The California Highway Patrol late last year announced it would no longer issue its own passes and instead relies on identification cards issued by employers. … San Francisco Police spokesman Neville Gittens said the credentials were being abused by people with no need for the identification, which allows bearers to cross police and fire lines. … Gittens said he realized the magnitude of the problem when the Raiders went to the Super Bowl in 2003 and people lined up outside his office to get passes and free access to the game. … Gittens said a mental patient with a press card tried to access patient records at SF General Hospital, while other applicants wanted them for free opera admission of to park without getting a ticket. … “There are dozens of reasons why people have told us they need these things,” Gittens said. … Some journalists, though, have complained that the official ID is often required for press access to public meetings and events. … Richard Knee, a freelance journalist active on First Amendment issues, suggested that the police should have no power over press access other than to regulate access to crime scenes. … “If I show a valid ID from the Ex, the Chron, SFW, SFBG, KCBS, a local student rag, Salon.com or a trade pub, that's all a cop needs to know,” Knee said. …

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