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Media groups condemn Burlington protesters burning newspapers

Published: 9/30/2020 9:21:36 PM
Modified: 9/30/2020 9:21:29 PM

Two Vermont media groups on Tuesday condemned the hoarding and burning of copies of newspapers during racial justice protests in Burlington last week.

The Vermont Press Association and the Vermont Journalism Alliance said the destruction of the newspapers amounted to censorship and was an attempt to intimidate journalists covering the protests.

Last week, protesters collected hundreds of copies of Seven Days, a free Burlington weekly that featured a cover story on the protests, and later burned some during a public demonstration.

Protesters said the Seven Days story had misrepresented their efforts; most of the demonstrators have refused to speak with the media. One social media post said the story contained “misogynoir, racism, sexism and clear patriarchal content.”

Demonstrators have been camped out for weeks at Battery Park, in front of the Burlington Police Department headquarters. Among their demands are the firing of three officers accused of using excessive force; one has left after a $300,000 settlement with the city.

The Vermont Journalism Alliance, which includes VtDigger, the Valley News and Seven Days, said the protesters’ collection and burning of the newspapers was “meant to strike fear in journalists covering the important public dialogue around racial justice and police brutality.”

“We call on leaders of the Burlington protest to refrain from attempting to curtail the media’s constitutional freedoms as they fight for their own,” the alliance said in a statement. The press group also includes Vermont Public Radio, WCAX-TV and the Vermont Community Newspaper Group.

“We acknowledge the role media has played in systemic racism over the centuries, and our organizations are committed to breaking that cycle in our coverage,” the VJA statement said.

In a news release, the executive board of the Vermont Press Association said the protesters’ action was “ill-informed and reflects a failure to understand the function and role of a free press in our society and country.” The VPA represents 10 daily and more than three dozen non-daily newspapers in Vermont, including the Valley News and Seven Days.

“It is concerning for all Vermont journalists that this act of censorship could somehow be seen as an appropriate response,” VPA President Lisa Loomis said in the release.

“Newspapers are not mouthpieces for one side or the other,” Loomis said. “And because one side doesn’t want to fully engage with the media and explain their position doesn’t mean a story will not be written.”

Seven Days replenished their distribution stands the day after the copies were removed.

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