MANHATTAN (CN) – The Black Radio Network, whose “Minority News” program is broadcast on WWRL and WLIB in New York, sued New York City and its Police Department for denying the station press credentials because the station was converting to a Web-based format. And the network claims the city gives press passes to politically connected people who don’t need them – including Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes.
Network owners Jay and Diane Levy say the NYPD had approved their working press cards for more than 40 years, but denied their application in 2009 when they reported that the network “would be converting to a Web-based news [outlet], with photo and audio service.”
The Levys say in their federal complaint that the NYPD said it denied their application because “its rules allow working press cards to be issued only to those individuals who are full-time, news staff employees, whose routine duties require them to cross police and fire lines and are regularly involved in spot emergency news coverage.”
But the Levys say that “employees of large, recognized, or ‘established’ news organizations are issued press cards,” whether their duties require special access or not.
The Levys claim that Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, WABC meteorologist Lee Goldberg and WCBS political correspondent Marcia Kramer were all given cards allowing them to cross police and fire lines, though none of them need access to emergency areas to write stories.
To get his pass, Ailes wrote on his application that he covered “the Midtown Steam Pipe Explosion, the Fire at Deutsche Bank, and Glass Falling from Building,” and the city granted him access without verifying his claims, the complaint states.
Black Radio Network claims the denial of its employees’ press cards has compromised coverage, causing the station to miss important stories affecting their audiences.
On May 28, 2009, for example, its reporters could not be on the scene “when an African American police officer was mistakenly shot in East Harlem by another police officer,” according to the complaint.
“They feared going to that location without a working press pass would not only hinder their ability to speak to witnesses but would also create problems with the New York City Police Department,” the Levys say.
The network says its lack of access prevented the launching of its website and cost it money.
“After thirty plus years of disseminating news, plaintiffs have been shut out of the news business by defendants’ unconstitutional conduct,” the complaint states.
The Levys and the station seek compensatory damages and declaratory judgment that the denial violated the First and 14th Amendments.
They are represented by Earl Ward.