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General News    H2'ed 1/20/10

Phila DA withdraws criminal charges against OpEdNews.com Managing Editor

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Rob Kall
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Updated, with comments from Noam Chomsky.

While covering a protest at the Army Experience Center in Philadelphia, PA, Cheryl Biren, on assignment for OpEdNews.com, was arrested and charged with criminal conspiracy and failure to disperse while taking photographs of protesters being arrested.

Philly Civil Affairs Police surround OpEdNews.com
reporter, Cheryl Biren

On January 13, 2010, four months after the arrest, the Philadelphia District Attorney's office withdrew all charges. Biren's attorney, Paul Hetnzecker warns, however, of a "very dangerous development involving first amendment rights."

In response to the withdrawal of charges, Hetznecker explained, "Based on my investigation it was clear that she was not in a position that they claimed she was and therefore should not have been arrested. We now have clear evidence of the police overreaching in arresting Cheryl Biren."

Describing the evidence, Hetnzecker pointed out, "In her particular case she was simply there as a reporter as she claimed all along. She was taking photographs of the event in what is clearly displayed on the police video taken at the time. It bears that fact out very clearly that she is there taking photographs and, as any reporter would, gathering information about the event. So, I think once the DA's office reviewed the tapes they also came to the same conclusion and I give them credit for doing so and withdrawing the charges."

(Image by Unknown Owner)   Details   DMCA

Photo taken by Cheryl Biren shortly
before she was arrested.

Hetznecker added, "Now as to what happens with the rest of my clients as we move forward, we are in the process of reviewing further discovery that has been received and I don't want to further comment about that until I've reviewed it and discussed it with my clients."

Asked to comment on the arrest and media coverage of it, Noam Chomsky, in an interview on my radio show, said, "...
it shouldn't be allowed to go on and it is the job of the media and citizen organizations to try to curb such practices."

When asked if the District Attorney had anything to say with respect to the withdrawal of charges, Attorney Hetznecker replied, "I think their position was that they reviewed the evidence and based on the evidence and the confirmation that she is, in fact, a reporter - that was enough for them to withdraw charges. What went into their thinking about that I did not really inquire nor did they share, but I think that the evidence based on the review of the video speaks for itself that she is clearly there as a reporter and she is covering the event as a photojournalist."

Police unjustly arresting media and photographers during political protests is an ongoing issue. Hetznecker warns of this "dangerous development" saying "I think this has become a pattern throughout the country that individuals who attempt to independently document an event that is governed or controlled by police action are going to be subject to arrest, unfortunately false arrest, and accusations of involvement or participation in the particular demonstration is an issue."

He continued, "I think that is an unfortunate development that has been a pattern and practice that has been adopted by many municipalities throughout the country whether it's in Pittsburgh or in New York during the convention or here in Philly in the conventions in 2000, there seems to be a real effort on the part of police and authorities to eliminate or to discredit or to undermine the independent media documenting an event involving a political protest. It's unfortunately the trend in a very dangerous development involving first amendment rights not only of protesters but of those who are trying to convey the coverage and convey the message the protesters bring."

On the Rob Kall Bottom-Up Radio Show, attorney Hetznecker asked Noam Chomsky, "...
Given all... the accounts... chronicled by journalists of the federal government and local authorities' attempt to undermine dissent in this country, Professor Chomsky, do you have a comment about that development and what you've seen over the course of the last 30 or 40 years... with respect to those events and the war on dissent so to speak?"

Professor Chomsky replied, "Well, the war on dissent is permanent. No power system wants to tolerate dissent. I mean that's kind of like a sociopolitical universal... Now, how power systems respond to this depends on their nature. Internally, to the United States there has always been government and corporate efforts to block dissent and the history is pretty violent and brutal. The United States has probably the most violent labor history of any industrial society."

"During the 60s and 70s as you know, I'm sure, a secret government program, COINTELPRO, which iniitally targeted - it was an FBI run program, a national political police program that targeted originally, of course, communists, but it expanded into the 60s to include the entire new left, the black movement, the women's movements and so on and it was no joke. It was finally terminated under court order in the mid 70s, but then other forms develop and as you describe power systems learn. They learn from what has worked and what hasn't worked and they adapt the tactics, they make it more sophisticated. I think what you describe now is bad, shouldn't be tolerated."

Later in the radio show, attorney Paul Hetznecker added, "...doing a survey of what has happened over the course of the last few years, it's important to note some of the things that have occurred in large demonstrations that infringe upon the right of the press to independently document the events as they unfold. ...in Pittsburgh in September in protests against the G20 Summit journalists were arrested. In fact at the University of Pittsburgh, it was documented that there were several student journalists that were rounded up in conjunction with the protesters and were arrested despite the fact that they had identified themselves as journalists."

"Likewise, at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, several journalists were arrested in 2008 and most notably in the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, St. Paul, where Amy Goodman and her crew were subjects of an arrest, a false arrest, by the authorities there. And, again, I think there is a trend of marginalizing challenges to power in the public domain and clearly where there is a rather large scale demonstration, the police seem to be unfettered in their decisions to arrest independent journalists and charge them and oftentimes seize their film."

Cheryl Biren expressed gratitude for Mr. Hetznecker and his "passion for first amendment rights." Adding, "I'm also glad for my decision to not accept an earlier offer by the court for a chance at "rehab" for my "behavior." The mainstream media really should wake up to this issue as it will likely arrive at their doorstep in due time. In fact, there have been some instances that have been met with little attention."

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Rob Kall is an award winning journalist, inventor, software architect, connector and visionary. His work and his writing have been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, ABC, the HuffingtonPost, Success, Discover and other media.

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He is the author of The Bottom-up Revolution; Mastering the Emerging World of Connectivity

He's given talks and workshops to Fortune 500 execs and national medical and psychological organizations, and pioneered first-of-their-kind conferences in Positive Psychology, Brain Science and Story. He hosts some of the world's smartest, most interesting and powerful people on his Bottom Up Radio Show, and founded and publishes one of the top Google- ranked progressive news and opinion sites, OpEdNews.com

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Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind. Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives one person at a time was too slow, he founded Opednews.com-- which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big) to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, (more...)

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