Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about police violence against journalists covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, especially about the attacks on reporters and photographers that took place on 1 September.
“We understand that the security forces are overwhelmed and we are aware of the great tension and the difficult conditions under which they are having to work in areas hit by Katrina, but it is very worrying that this is reflected in violence against journalists,” the press freedom organisation said.
“We believe that is essential that news coverage should be completely free and unobstructed in such a serious situation,” Reporters Without Borders added.
Reporter Tim Harper and photographer Lucas Oleniuk of the Canadian Toronto Star daily were the victims of police violence while covering a clash between police and looters. The police threatened them several times at gunpoint and, when they realised Oleniuk had photographed them hitting looters, they hurled him to the ground, grabbed his two cameras and removed memory cards containing around 350 pictures. His press card was also torn from him. When he asked for his pictures back, the police insulted him and threatened to hit him.
Harper said in a report about the police violence in the Toronto Star that, given the situation in New Orleans, there was not doubt that the police saw journalists as an obstacle to their efforts to regain control of the city.
A second incident involved Gordon Russell of the New Orleans-based Times-Picayune daily as he was covering a shoot-out between police and local residents near the convention centre where hurricane victims were awaiting evacuation. The police detained Russell and smashed all of his equipment on the ground. Russell was forced to flee to avoid further violence and reportedly left the city the same day.