Journalists Get Stamp of Approval; U.S. to Allow Foreign Press Entry without Visas, End 'Embarrassment'

Article excerpt

Byline: Audrey Hudson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Homeland Security Department is allowing some foreign journalists who do not have proper visas one-time entry into the United States after receiving complaints from trade organizations and reporters, two dozen of whom were detained and deported last year.

"We definitely feel that it is clamping down on freedom of the press," said Tala Dowlatshahi, the U.S. representative of Reporters Without Borders. "A country that teaches democracy inside and outside its border must make sure reporters are treated in a democratic fashion."

Foreign journalists have always been required to obtain a separate visa specifically for reporters, but after the September 11 terrorist attacks custom officials cracked down and asked tougher and more extensive questions, said Bill Strassberger, Homeland Security Department spokesman.

"In the past, they may have been able to get by and the right questions were not asked; but now there is greater security at the borders," Mr. Strassberger said.

"It does sound like an overbearing bureaucracy. But in reality, there are specific visas for different reasons and when they come to the U.S., they are expected to follow the rules. There is a logical reason for it, but not everyone agrees with it."

According to Reporters Without Borders, 15 writers reported being searched numerous times - some strip searched - handcuffed, detained over night and deprived of sleep by customs officials.

Several of the reporters were from Britain, France, Sweden and Holland, who historically have entered the United States via the visa-waiver program, which grants access to visitors from 27 countries designated as "friendly."

Journalists will now be allowed a one-time entry, but they must apply for a visa designed specifically for reporters before their second visit. …