ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — An organization of New York newspapers and broadcasters has protested a prosecutor’s decision to exclude some journalists from a news conference following the acquittal of a former soccer coach charged with murder.
The New York State Associated Press Association said in a letter Monday to St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain that she violated the 1st Amendment right of the press to cover public officials when she barred Watertown Daily Times reporter William Eckert and photographer Jason Hunter.
The association said that decision “denied some citizens the right to equal access to information” about the verdict in favor of Oral “Nick” Hillary on Sept. 28.
Rain said at the time that Eckert was excluded from what she described as an invitation-only session because she took issue with his reporting. The newspaper has protested and demanded an apology.
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“You said ‘Bill Eckert is a dishonest reporter and I won’t have a dishonest reporter reporting to the community dishonestly,'” Watertown Times editor and co-publisher John B. Johnson wrote to Rain, local lawmakers and court officials. “I demand substantiation for these allegations. If you are unable to provide evidence and substantiation of your claims, I demand a public retraction and apology.”
In the association letter, NYSAPA board President Tracy Ormsbee of the Times Union of Albany offered to discuss the issue with Rain.
“We remind you that it is inappropriate for you to attempt to control information by giving personal invitations to only certain reporters based on your preference for favorable coverage, or to bar reporters whose coverage you dislike,” Ormsbee wrote on behalf of the board.
Rain didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
North Country Public Radio journalist Brit Hanson, who was providing photographic coverage for other outlets including The Associated Press, was also blocked from news conference. NCPR Assistant News Director David Sommerstein said Rain later told him that had been in error.
Follow Walsh on Twitter at @gmwalshAP