Journalists must be protected from authorities when covering stories

In 2020, there were 2010 journalists attacked, 68 arrested and over 850 reported aggressions against the press during national Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, according to nonpartisan website U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

On Wednesday, Sept. 30, Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed Senate Bill 629 that would protect journalists from physical or verbal obstruction by law enforcement while covering demonstrations. He did so, claiming in his veto message that the bill was too broad and would allow white nationalists, extreme anarchists or other fringe groups with an online presence to be protected. However, journalists need to be protected to be able to do their jobs properly without having to worry about their safety.

The press has recently been wrongfully abused while working on a story. On Sept. 14, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies assaulted and arrested Josie Huang, a reporter for the National Public Radio, on claims that she didn’t have credentials and ignored demands to leave the area. However, those claims were contradicted by videos Huang shared the day after her arrest, showing her quickly backing away from police when ordered to do so and repeatedly identifying herself as a journalist. While there are laws in place to protect the press, they are not enforced well enough. There has to be a new law to protect the press while they cover demonstrations all over the nation.

Other than lack of protection from assault, journalists are also susceptible to unlawful arrest. According to the New York Times, at the height of BLM protests in mid May, an entire CNN camera crew was arrested while on live TV in Minnesota. Watching the press get arrested on live television is a threat to democracy and honorable news. Citizens have the right to accurate information about the conflicts around them, but how can they get that when those tasked with providing it are arrested? Journalists need protection from the law in order to provide accurate information to the public.

Press equipment has also been damaged or seized by law enforcement during these demonstrations, an act that is illegal. The Privacy Protection Act of 1980 prohibits law enforcement from seizing or erasing materials obtained by a journalist for the purpose of communicating to the public. Despite the law, law enforcement, according to U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, damaged equipment 59 times and searched or seized them 11 times since the beginning of the year. We need to protect the integrity of trustworthy news reporting.

However, as Newsom said, Senate Bill 629 did not specify who would be protected, giving way to untrustworthy and biased news sources to go free through demonstrations. However, that’s where California Penal Code 409.5 comes in. The Code states that while law enforcement has the right to block off areas with a “menace to public health and safety,” and arrest anyone who does not leave the area, it does not apply to “duly authorized” press associates. Therefore, we need to enact a law that protects journalists from physical and verbal abuse while they report, not only identifying and allowing their presence at a demonstration.

The press should be protected from physical and verbal obstruction by law enforcement, especially in a time where so much is going on. Without news coverage of major events, the public won’t have the information to make the necessary change in their lives, community, government and society. So will you stay ignorant?