City of Berkeley calls invite-only press conference just for TV news

From left: Berkeley Police Chief Mike Meehan, Mayor Tom Bates, Councilman Max Anderson, and Fire Chief Gil Dong. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
From left: Berkeley Police Chief Mike Meehan, Mayor Tom Bates, Councilman Max Anderson, and Fire Chief Gil Dong from today’s City Hall press conference. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

By Emilie Raguso and Frances Dinkelspiel

The city of Berkeley has called a press conference for media Tuesday afternoon, but only invited reporters from television stations to attend it, sources tell Berkeleyside.

The city manager and her spokesman have been unavailable Tuesday to respond to questions about the event. Police have been unable to respond since Sunday to a series of questions Berkeleyside has submitted about the use of force Saturday night.

Charles Burress, spokesman for Mayor Tom Bates, said Tuesday afternoon that there had been “no intent of secrecy” when the meeting was planned. It is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 9, at City Hall.


Burress said Bates spent the entire day Monday doing interviews with the media, and had been unable to keep up with all the requests for comment.

Burress said, at some point, someone suggested that Bates invite the television stations to City Hall to speak with them, because the video interviews could not be accomplished over the telephone. (Burress declined to say who came up with the idea.)

Burress added: “A press conference was never announced.”

He said Berkeley’s police chief, Michael Meehan, might be in attendance.

Said one person who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak about the topic: “There are 100 credentialed press people in town and we don’t want to have 100 people showing up,” about the reason for the invite-only meeting.


Berkeleyside was not invited to the meeting, but editor and co-founder Frances Dinkelspiel has informed the city that she will be in attendance.

Berkeleyside co-founder Lance Knobel emailed the city manager and mayor Tuesday afternoon to express frustration about how the event had been planned and marketed.

“I understand the severe space constraints you’re operating under,” he wrote. “But you should also understand that 100% of our attention is focused on Berkeley. We take a serious interest in everything that happens in the city. We’ve had far and away the most extensive coverage of the protests and I guarantee you we will have the most thorough coverage (often the only coverage) of whatever the next story to break in Berkeley will be.”

Knobel also wrote that the city’s approach to the event, by limiting attendance, was simply unacceptable, pointing out that it was undemocratic to exclude in its entirety print and online media.

“I think the proper behavior for the city would be to invite media without prejudice, rather than confining itself to a single medium. There’s something that strikes me as anti-democratic about your approach,” he wrote. “We treat city officials with respect and attention, and we expect to get the same in return. It’s absolutely unacceptable to plan a news conference without giving us and other online and print media an opportunity to participate.”


Berkeleyside’s managing editor Tracey Taylor said she thought the move would make the city look as though it is showing favoritism toward television news outlets: “Such a decision runs counter to the generally accepted practices around freedom of the press,” she said.

More protests have been planned for tonight, and the City Council meeting has been canceled. Read more on Berkeleyside.

Editor’s Note: This story originally was published at 3:34 p.m. It was republished at 5:10 p.m. to account for a technical glitch related to our Berkeleyside Daily Briefing.

Related:
Gallery: Third night of Berkeley protests, trains halted, a freeway brought to a standstill (12.09.14)
After protests, Berkeley City Council meeting canceled (12.09.14)
CHP arrest 150 protesters after they block I-80 freeway (12.09.14)
City told police to use restraint, avoid tear gas, on second night of protests (12.08.14)
Photo Gallery: Two nights of protests, riots in Berkeley (12.08.14)
Pastor: Brown’s death was the final straw that galvanized communities across the nation (12.08.14)
Protesters take to streets for second night: violence, vandalism of local businesses, looting (12.07.14)
Ferguson demo: injuries reported, tear gas used, property vandalized; arrests (12.06.14)

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