SPJ Responds After Journalist is Removed from Press Conference in San Francisco

The Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is deeply concerned about the expulsion of journalist Sana Saleem from a January 18, 2017 press conference in which San Francisco Police Department representatives discussed the shooting of an unarmed man.

On January 25, SPJ NorCal submitted a letter to Mayor Ed Lee and SFPD Chief William Scott regarding this incident.

Below is the full text of the letter, sent via email:

January 25, 2017

Mayor Edwin M. Lee
San Francisco City Hall, Rm 200
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Pl
San Francisco, CA 94102
MayorEdwinLee@sfgov.org

Chief William Scott
San Francisco Police Department
1245 3rd Street, Fl 6
San Francisco, CA 94158
SFPDChief@sfgov.org

By Email

Dear Mayor Lee and Chief Scott:

The Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is deeply concerned about the expulsion of journalist Sana Saleem from a January 18, 2017 press conference in which San Francisco Police Department representatives discussed the shooting of an unarmed man that took place earlier this month.

Saleem is an experienced journalist who serves as a staff reporter for 48 Hills, an online news publication founded by former San Francisco Bay Guardian executive editor Tim Redmond in 2013. 48 Hills engages in original reporting and commentary about local politics and culture, and has extensively covered SFPD’s use of force policies and practices. Saleem has authored many of these stories, and has contacted SFPD for comment on numerous occasions. Saleem has also interacted with the officer who removed her from the SFPD press conference, Giselle Talkoff, at press conferences prior to the one from which she was removed. As you know, Talkoff is also an SFPD spokesperson.

According to witnesses, Saleem was admitted to the press conference by another officer and was newsgathering when Talkoff approached her. Talkoff told Saleem that she could not be credentialed press because 48 Hills is an online-only publication. This not only contradicts SFPD’s past policy on access, but if evenly enforced, it would also bar such publications as BuzzFeed, ProPublica, The Marshall Project, The Intercept, Slate, and U.S. News and World Report, as well as numerous local online magazines, television stations, and radio stations.

There is further reason to believe that Saleem was singled out. Several working journalists who were allowed to remain in the press conference told SPJ that they either possessed expired credentials — a common occurrence — or that they did not have SFPD credentials.

Further, multiple journalists confirmed that non-journalist members of the public were allowed to attend the press conference. This suggests the incident involves not just questionable policy decisions by SFPD, but potential violations of the First Amendment.(1)

SPJ requests that SFPD clarify its credentialing and access policies, practices and procedures. As we have done with other departments, we also offer our assistance in working with SFPD to help the department ensure its policies and procedures are reasonable and lawful, both formally and as applied.

Well-written policies are of little use without proper training and accountability, however. Thus we further ask that you fully investigate these allegations, and that you take appropriate action to prevent a similar incident in the future.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Rebecca Bowe
President
Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California Chapter

Cherokee Melton
Co-Chair

Kate Conger
Co-Chair
Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California Chapter
Freedom of Information Committee

FOOTNOTE
1 The government may not exclude members of the press from activities that are open to the public. California First Amendment Coal. v. Woodford, 299 F.3d 868, 886 fn. 2 (9th Cir. 2002) (citing Houchins v. KQED, Inc., 438 U.S. 1, 15–16 (1978) [holding that the right of access to a government facility is the same for the press as it is for the public]). Nor may it exclude journalists because they engage in critical reporting. See, e.g., Borreca v. Fasi, 369 F. Supp. 906, 907–11 (D. Haw. 1974) (enjoining policy of excluding particular reporter from press conferences because mayor believed reporter to be “irresponsible, inaccurate, biased and malicious” in his reporting); Lewis v. Baxley, 368 F.Supp. 768, 779 (M.D. Ala 1973) (holding “that ‘protection of the public from interested and improperly influenced news coverage’ is not a compelling governmental interest” that would justify a restriction on press privileges; “it may in fact be an interest with which the government may not constitutionally concern itself at all”); Citicasters Co. v. Finkbeiner, No. 07-CV-00117 (N.D. Ohio 2007) (holding that a mayor cannot bar a local radio reporter from attending press conferences and must notify his station of upcoming news events).