World Food Prize Organizers Confiscate Press Credentials From Three Reporters

Two journalists reporting for Democracy Watch News were ejected from World Food Prize (WFP) events in Des Moines, Iowa, on October 13, after they were observed by police filming anti-GMO protesters.

Karri Marks and Kaylynn Strain were covering the Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium scheduled at the Des Moines downtown Marriott October 12-14. Both are livestreamers living in Iowa. Marks is a former resident of Hawai’i, where she is a member of the Big Island Press Club.

The incident took place after a small group of activists from Iowa Citizens For Community Improvement (ICCI) walked into the hotel lobby carrying signs and chanting anti-GMO slogans.

Des Moines police officers told the WFP media liaison that the journalists entered the building with the demonstrators. Marks and Strain were trying to interview the group from ICCI.

Although Kerri Marks had been at the hotel covering the events since the beginning of the symposium, she and Kaylynn Strain were expelled from the premises and escorted out the exit by police officers.

The reporters also had their press credential confiscated by WFP staff before they were kicked out of the hotel. They were told that they were being expelled because they had been observed with the protesters. (Skip to 2:55 to see reporters kicked out of WFP events.)

Third Reporter Prohibited From Covering WFP

On October 14, another Democracy Watch News reporter had his credentials confiscated. We were able to recruit journalist Darwin Manning, who produces his own radio program in Seattle. He has been visiting Iowa, so we asked him to cover for our two reporters who have been barred from attending World Food Prize events.

After meeting for dinner with former Iowa General Assembly member Ed Fallon, Manning went to the state capitol building in Des Moines, where the official awards ceremony was taking place.

He was escorted into the event by an officer from the Sheriff’s Department. Manning says an officer from the Sheriff’s Department assisted him because he was there as a reporter to cover the event. Within a short period of time, however, he was told to leave by a WFP representative.

Before he was escorted out of the building, his credentials were questioned by a police officer, even though they were legitimate. Obviously, the World Food Prize organizers had granted him official press credentials for their events. I don’t see how they could deny that fact.

In any case, his press credentials were confiscated by a police officer at the capitol building.

When Manning questioned that action, he was told that he could pick up another press pass the next morning so he went to the Marriott on October 14, as instructed. While there, he mentioned Democracy Watch News to the media liaison and was told that because of his association with the news organization, he would not be given back his press credentials.

Setting the Record Straight

That is the situation as Democracy Watch News understands it. Apparently the denial of his credentials is related to the confiscation of the press credentials given to Marks and Strain.

It seems odd that press credentials have been issued and then revoked three times, at least with our group of reporters. It’s very confusing.

Just to be clear, none of the reporters have behaved in a way that would cause anyone to think they were being disruptive, difficult or even overly critical toward WFP organizers. They have no criminal history or association with disruptive groups.

Democracy Watch News is dedicated to reporting on democracy movements around the world, as well as on other issues. Our coordinating editor has personal relationships with a couple of the attendees of the WFP events, including Dr. Parasuraman and M. S. Swaminathan from India. There seems to be no reason why the news organization would make WFP organizers nervous.

The reporters had agreed to livestream Dr. Swaminathan’s address at the symposium, but we were unable to follow through with that agreement after Marks and Strain were ejected from the proceedings.

The World Food Prize is a $250,000 award given annually by the organization, created by Nobel Prize Laureate Norman E. Borlaug. The award has been controversial among many food and agriculture activists who are opposed to the promotion of genetically modified organisms by WFP organizers. In 2013, the prize was given to to Monsanto’s Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Dr. Robert Fraley.

Dupont Pioneer and Monsanto are among the sponsors of the World Food Prize.

Democracy Watch News

Democracy Watch News holds weekly national and international press briefings, which are produced as podcasts. The news organization also has a section at the Oximity website, and we report on breaking news stories via our Twitter account and on Facebook.

As contributing editor for Democracy Watch News, press freedom must be a number one priority. It is clear that the actions taken by Des Moines police officers and the WFP staff were politically motivated. Kerri Marks reports one of the police officers told her that he didn’t believe they were providing balanced coverage of the events, even though she had been livestreaming and recording much of the World Food Prize proceedings.

The video filmed by Kerri Marks shows what happened when their press credentials were confiscated. (Skip to 2:55 to see reporters being ejected.)

In response, Democracy Watch News Coordinating Editor Dean Edwards has lodged complaints with WFP President Kenneth Quinn, and with the WFP media outreach team. We are demanding that the reporters’ press credentials be returned to them and that WFP offer an apology for expelling our reporters under a false accusations by police.

Press Freedom?

The US is currently ranked #41 on the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index. The mistreatment of journalists won’t help to improve that ranking.

If the expulsions were politically motivated, it was also a violation of freedom of the press. Democracy Watch News has been in contact with Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Committee To Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and the Society of Professional Journalists to discuss this matter and find redress for our grievances.

By taking away the credentials of dedicated reporters and livestreamers, the World Food Prize organizers have only added to the controversy surrounding their international event, which enjoys the gracious support of the US Department of State. With no journalists allowed to report on the proceedings in Des Moines, Democracy Watch News has been seriously hindered in our attempts to provide a vital public service.

The idea that journalists must agree with and support the organizations they are reporting on is antithetical to the reporter’s creed. If access is only allowed to sympathetic members of the news media, how can transparency and accountability be maintained? What is the point of being a journalist if you can’t question authority or challenge the status quo?

The job of a good journalist to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” The World Food Prize is a high-profile event involving heads of state and imminent scientists. Shouldn’t they expect a high profile response when they violate the tenets of press freedom?

Bottom line: It is the obligation of all editors and publishers to stand up for the rights of reporters anytime, anyhow, anywhere!