Journalist Protection Act created to make attacking journalist a federal crime

By Sharon Dunten, SPJ Region 3 Assistant Regional, editor of SizingUpTheSouth.com

Representative Eric Swalwell

U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell  (CA-15)

WASHINGTON, DC. — A member of the U.S. House Intelligence and Judiciary committee, Rep. Eric Swalwell, (CA-15) has introduced the Journalist Protection Act to make it a “federal crime of certain attacks on those reporting the news.”

According to Swalwell’s website, the Journalism Protection Act might make it a federal crime to intentionally cause bodily injury to a journalist which interferes with the course of reporting or in a matter designed to intimidate him or her from newsgathering for a media organization. The act would represent a clear statement that assaults against people engaged in journalism is unacceptable. Furthermore, the act would ensure law enforcement is able to punish those who interfere with newsgathering.

“During his campaign and since taking office, President Trump has created a climate of extreme hostility to the press by describing mainstream media outlets as ‘a stain on America,’ ‘trying to take away our history and our heritage,’ and ‘the enemy of the American People.’ He tweeted a GIF video of himself body-slamming a person with the CNN logo superimposed on that person’s face, and retweeted a cartoon of a ‘Trump Train’ running over a person with the CNN logo as its head,” states Swalwell on his web page.

Reporters Without Borders logoConsequences might have developed because of the tension and ongoing rhetoric in the U.S. Last April the Reporter Without Borders lowered the United States’ ranking in its annual World Press Freedom Index.

“We thank Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-15) for introducing this legislation, and we urge other lawmakers to support and vote for its passage,” said Rebecca Baker, president of the Society of Professional Journalists.

From small towns to large cities throughout our country and the world. It has to stop,” said Baker.

Rebecca Baker

Rebecca Baker, SPJ president

“This legislation, if passed, will go a long way in protecting journalists who find themselves becoming targets because of the current climate [in the Trump administration]. The rhetoric being spewed by some people in positions of power is dangerous to those covering to the news — from small towns to large cities throughout our country and the world. It has to stop,” said Baker.

Swalwell said President Trump has created a toxic environment for journalists. “It’s not just about labeling reports of his constant falsehoods as #FakeNews — it’s his casting of media personalities and outlets as anti-American targets, and encouraging people to engage in violence,” he said.

One journalism organization is keeping track of hostilities against journalists. It is the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. Along with dozens of journalism organizations, including the Society of Professional Journalists, the organization tracks violence against journalists and also compiles that information for research. Some incidents include:

And many more …

Bernie Lunzer

Bernie Lunzer

“This is a dangerous time to be a journalist,” said Bernie Lunzer, president of The NewsGuild, a division of Communications Workers of America, said on Swalwell’s web page. “At least 44 reporters were physically attacked in the U.S. last year and angry rhetoric that demonizes reporters persists,” he said. “The threatening atmosphere is palpable.”

Lunzer said the Journalist Protection Act deserves the support of everyone who believes in democracy and a “free and vibrant press.”

Journalists killed 3

WDBJ7’s Alison Parker and Adam Ward were killed while they were on the air by a former colleague. CBS News photo

Many journalists still remember the killing of two broadcast journalists in Virginia in 2015 while they were on the air for a morning show. “Broadcast employees assigned to NABET CWA logonewsgathering in the field often work alone, or in two-person crews,” said Charles Braico, president of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians. “With their expensive and cumbersome equipment, they are easy and tempting prey for anti-media extremists and thieves.”

Journalists continue to received death threats, threats of sexual assault and violence in many newsrooms. “Taken together, it is clear that not only is the role of the news media in our democracy under attack, but the safety of individual journalists is threatened,”

Rick Blum

Rick Blum

said Rick Blum, director of News Media for Open Government on the Representative’s website.

“It’s time to reverse course,” said Blum. “Physical violence and intimidation should never get in the way of covering police, protesters, presidents and other public matters.”

 

Sharon Dunten mug

Sharon Dunten

Sharon Dunten, Assistant Region Director, Region 3, Society of Professional Journalists, editor of SizingUpTheSouth.com, freelance writer and photographer at Dunten Media Services LLC.  sdunten.spjregion3@gmail.com 

Society of Professional Journalists

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