SPJ strongly supports the Journalist Protection Act
J. Alex Tarquinio, SPJ National President, 212-283-0843, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Director of Communications and Marketing, 317-361-4134, email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists applauds Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) for reintroducing the Journalist Protection Act, which would make it a federal crime to knowingly assault a reporter engaged in the act of newsgathering. The representatives reintroduced this legislation, which failed to win passage in the previous term, into the current 116th Congressional session today.
This is a fitting way to mark Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of government transparency and press freedom that runs from March 10 - 16, in conjunction with the birthday of James Madison, a framer of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Creating a legal protection for the act of newsgathering is especially critical after numerous incidents highlighting a political climate that threatens the nation’s free press, a cornerstone of democracy. Just last month, a BBC cameraman was assaulted at a political rally where President Donald Trump was speaking in El Paso, Texas. Dramatic footage of the incident shows the cameraman was knocked off balance for about 10 seconds by a Trump supporter wearing a red Make America Great Again baseball cap. As the assailant was being led away, the crowd could be heard chanting, “Let him go.”
"In light of the thoroughly unacceptable attack on a BBC cameraman at a recent Trump rally, a law to protect the act of newsgathering is critically needed," said SPJ President J. Alex Tarquinio. "This legislation would not provide an individual privilege to journalists, but rather, it would preserve the vital role they perform while reporting on events of public interest.”
She went on to urge politicians, law enforcement and the public to consider the value of newsgathering during the politically divisive 2020 electoral campaign. “In order for citizens to be well informed, journalists must be free to do their jobs without fear of reprisal, intimidation or threat of physical harm,” Tarquinio said.
The situation has only worsened for reporters covering campaigns and other polarizing public events since the middle of 2017, when Congressmember Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) was convicted of assault in a Montana state court after a physical attack on a reporter, in which he broke the reporter’s glasses, on the eve of the special election that brought Gianforte to Congress. The worsening political climate for a free press contributed to a slide in the nation’s ranking in the Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders in 2018, when the United States dropped to 45th out of 180 countries.
Safeguarding the newsgathering process is part of the Society’s advocacy on behalf of press freedom and government transparency.
“In light of the recent rhetoric and hostility against journalists that has been amplified by a number of elected leaders, the need for safeguards called for in the Journalist Protection Act is as critical as ever,” said Danielle McLean, SPJ’s national Freedom of Information Committee chair.
If you know of an incident involving the harassment, attack or arrest of a journalist, submit it to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
If you are a journalist needing help paying for legal assistance, submit a request to SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund.
SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund, or give to the SPJ Foundation.