Channel 2 Errs on Task Force, CBS 46 Errs on Panhandling

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(APN) ATLANTA – Over the past few days Channel 2 WSB-TV News and Channel 46 CBS Atlanta have ran stories making major errors in regards to issues affecting homeless people in Atlanta.

Channel 2 ran a report stating that the largest shelter in the southeastern US, the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, was about to imminently close, citing a months-old dispossessory ruling.  

Yet, the report was false: the shelter is still open, and a dispossessory ruling by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall has been stayed for the last seven months, pending a lengthy appeal with the Court of Appeals of Georgia that isn’t expected to even be heard until next year.

Anita Beaty, Executive Director of the Task Force, told Atlanta Progressive News that the shelter residents were frightened by the report, some believing that it was true.  Beaty said she attempted to get the station to run a correction, but that they did not do so.

Meanwhile, Channel 46 ran a report on yesterday, August 31, 2012, erroneously claiming that panhandling is illegal in the City of Atlanta.  

Yet, the report was false: while certain narrowly-defined categories of panhandling are outlawed by the City’s current commercial solicitation ordinance–including aggressive panhandling, panhandling at night, panhandling near an ATM, or panhandling in the Tourist Triangle–panhandling in general is protected by the free speech provision of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the US.

CBS’s Adam Murphy even went so far as to go on a fishing expedition for panhandlers in downtown’s Woodruff Park, telling one, “You can’t panhandle.  It’s illegal in the City of Atlanta.  You asked for two dollars and that’s illegal.”

“You can’t panhandle?” the man said, shaking his head.  “Okay,” he later said, appearing to accept CBS’s false statement as true, shrugging his shoulders.

Inexplicably, the station ran a statement from Council Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large) saying, “Panhandling is illegal.”  As the Chairman of the Public Safety/Legal Administration Committee, Bond knows full well that panhandling generally is not illegal in the United States of America.

Yet, Bond “liked” the CBS clip on Facebook and “shared” it on to his Facebook page.

“I… was appalled when I saw the story posted on Councilman Bond’s Facebook page,” Dr. Dwanda Farmer, PhD, told Atlanta Progressive News.

By posting the erroneous and harmful information to his Facebook page, Bond took an active role in spreading the misinformation, even after the story quoted him as saying, “Panhandling is illegal.”

In all, CBS repeated the incorrect information three times during the story.

Atlanta Progressive News’s editor–the present writer–sent an email at 1am this morning to Murphy, and to a generic email address for the station.  Upon calling the station this morning to follow-up, a man who answered the phone confirmed receiving the email and said someone would try to call back.  APN has requested that CBS Atlanta retract the information but has not yet heard back.  We will update this story if CBS runs a correction.  The story has neither been updated nor taken down as of yet.

APN has not contacted Channel 2 because APN did not see the Channel 2 clip and it does not appear to be available online.  However, both Beaty and Farmer saw it, and independently told APN the same information about it.

According to CBS, the City of Atlanta is cracking down on panhandling this weekend with an increased presence around the Peachtree Center area where Dragon*Con is being held.

The conference, however, is being held in the Tourist Triangle, one specific area where commercial solicitation is prohibited, in the City of Atlanta.  The other restricted zone is the area around the King Center.

CBS 46 also reported that 81 percent of the people arrested for panhandling in the City of Atlanta are not homeless.

Councilman Bond shared that statistic yesterday with APN, although he stated that 81 percent of aggressive panhandlers, not panhandlers in general, are not homeless because they provide an address to police when they are arrested.  From this, Bond extrapolates that they are “confidence man and scam artists,” who are not only housed, but are not indigent.

Yet, Beaty takes issue with the statistic, even as Bond explains it.

Beaty said that homeless people “feel enormous pressure to give an address” when they are arrested, even if it is the address of the Task Force or of a relative, so that they can receive any court paperwork related to their arrest.

Beaty said that they could choose to say that they live “at the park bench at the corner of Washington Street,” but that many homeless people do not know they have that option, and that if they did use such an option, it is unlikely that mail would be successfully delivered to them there.

(END/2012)

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