LA City Council Punishes Press Corps

UPDATE: The LA Times reports that Council President Eric Garcetti apologized to members of the media yesterday for the council’s recent restrictions and promised to rework them. Garcetti also told reporter Eric Leonard he had every right to take photos and he’s talked to Officer Johnson about the incident.

The Los Angeles City Council has found an effective way to control their negative press — by restricting, blocking and punishing the media that cover them.

When protestors showed up at City Hall on Friday over a rent control/tenants rights issue, things got heated and there was an ugly confrontation with LAPD officers. KFI AM 360 reporter Eric Leonard was photographing the scene when Officer Michael Johnson of the  General Services, the City Council’s security force,  got aggressive with him and threatened him with arrest. Despite the chaotic scene, Johnson apparently was more concerned with not having his picture taken.

This incident comes on the heels of puzzling restrictions imposed last week by Council President Eric Garcetti and members Dennis Zine and Jan Perry. Among the new rules reporters have to follow are that they can only stand in a certain place, they can’t talk to any of the council members, and if they don’t comply they can be thrown out or even arrested. The Council has come under fire recently for some unpopular decisions, and Leonard acknowledges there’s real friction between the Council and the press corps. And now, the City council clearly seems to be retaliating for unfavorable coverage with a slew of inexplicably petty rules and restrictions.

Officer Johnson is the enforcer of rules big and small, and talk radio host Michael Linder’s blog reports that he’s even gone so far as to reprimand a camerawoman for her tripod sticking out beyond a designated area, not allowing reporters to sit down no matter how long meetings go on, and restricting the filming of faces of people testifying before the council. So in other words, what they’re thinking is, death by a thousand cuts — let’s just make these reporters’ lives as miserable as possible.

Garcetti and Perry have agreed to meet with the media about the situation on Monday — on the condition that they don’t report on what transpires. Naturally.

Articles from LAist.com and Michael Linder. And listen to Eric Leonard’s take on the incident here (at about 4:45 in).

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