Mass. police refuse to grant student reporters press passes

MASSACHUSETTS — The Massachusetts State Police have denied an appeal for media credentials made by a reporter for a student newspaper at Boston College because the paper does not publish daily.

Ryan Heffernan, editor of The Heights, appealed to police in October after the state police denied his initial request for press passes for Heffernan and two other student reporters.

After drafting his appeal, Heffernan contacted the Society of Professional Journalists and asked it to get involved in mediating what would be an ultimately unsuccessful compromise between The Heights and the police department.

The state police denied Heffernan’s appeal in November, saying that because The Heights is not a daily newspaper, its reporters do not meet the “Daily News Reporter” qualification for obtaining media credentials.

The college journalists requested the police-issued press credentials to avoid being arrested while covering rallies and protests. Heffernan believed press passes could be important for The Heights after reporters for student newspapers at George Washington University and the University of Maryland were arrested while reporting on an International Monetary Fund rally in 2002.

But the Massachusetts State Police, after initially granting the reporters’ requests, refused to issue the press passes when the students showed up at headquarters to be photographed for the passes.

According to state police policy, journalists are only eligible for press passes if they are “regularly employed … full time as a Reporter devoting a significant portion of employment time to police news for Daily Newspapers, Television Stations or Networks, Radio Stations, News Magazines, or News Gathering Agency.”

Since The Heights is a weekly publication, its reporters do not qualify for passes. Weekly news publications of any kind, be it a student publication or a commercial paper, do not meet the criteria for state police-issued press credentials, said Trooper Thomas R. Ryan of the state police’s public affairs unit.

“In no way should this [denial] be viewed as a judgment on The Heights’ legitimacy as a credible news outlet. We appreciate the importance of the job of all news reporters, regardless of how big or small their publication,” wrote Col. Thomas J. Foley, superintendent of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of State Police in the letter denying Heffernan’s appeal.

Heffernan, who was disappointed by the police’s decision, pointed out that reporters covering events such as rallies or protests have no protection and can easily be mistaken for unruly protestors and arrested.

“[Not giving The Heights press passes] is sort of picking and choosing who can cover events, who’s protected at events,” he said. “Past courts have ruled that one type of media outlet is entitled to the same degree of access as another, whether you’re a weekly newspaper or a daily newspaper.”

Heffernan has not decided what he will do next, but he is not content to leave the issue unresolved.

“Our newspaper has always stood for freedom of the press and freedom of speech,” he said.