California congressman introduces Journalist Protection Act
Rep. Eric Swalwell (CA-15), a member of the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees, on Monday introduced the Journalist Protection Act to make a federal crime of certain attacks on those reporting the news.
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 a CNN logo as its head.
Such antagonistic communications help encourage others to think, regardless of their views, that violence against people engaged in journalism is more acceptable. In April, the international organization Reporters Without Borders lowered the United States’ ranking in its annual World Press Freedom Index, citing President Trump’s rhetoric.
“President Donald Trump’s campaign and administration have created a toxic atmosphere,” Swalwell said. “It’s not just about labelling 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.”
Last March, OC Weekly journalists said they were assaulted by demonstrators at a Make America Great Again rally in Huntington Beach, Calif. In August, a reporter was punched in the face for filming anti-racism counter-protestors in Charlottesville, Va. And in September, a Joplin, Mo. blogger was similarly attacked for his providing information about the community.
“Not all attacks on journalists this year have been committed by Trump supporters, but the fact remains that rhetoric emanating from the world’s most powerful office is stoking an environment in which these attacks proliferate,” Swalwell said. “We must send a loud, clear message that such violence won’t be tolerated.”
The Journalist Protection Act makes it a federal crime to intentionally cause bodily injury to a journalist affecting interstate or foreign commerce in the course of reporting or in a manner designed to intimidate him or her from newsgathering for a media organization. It represents a clear statement that assaults against people engaged in reporting is unacceptable, and helps ensure law enforcement is able to punish those who interfere with newsgathering.
The bill is supported by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and by News Media for Open Government, a broad coalition of news media and journalism organizations working to ensure that laws, policies and practices preserve and protect freedom of the press, open government and the free flow of information in our democratic society.
“This is a dangerous time to be a journalist,” said Bernie Lunzer, president of The NewsGuild, a division of the CWA. “At least 44 reporters were physically attacked in the U.S. last year and angry rhetoric that demonizes reporters persists. The threatening atmosphere is palpable. The Journalist Protection Act deserves the support of everyone who believes our democracy depends on a free and vibrant press.”
“Broadcast employees assigned to newsgathering in the field often work alone, or in two-person crews,” said Charlie Braico, president of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, also a CWA division. “With their expensive and cumbersome equipment, they are easy and tempting prey for anti-media extremists and thieves. The Journalist Protection Act will permit the authorities to properly punish people who attempt to interfere with our members as they work in dynamic and challenging situations.”
“Dozens of physical assaults on journalists doing their jobs were documented by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in 2017,” said Rick Blum, director of News Media for Open Government. “Online harassment of journalists has included death threats and threats of sexual and other physical violence. 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. It’s time to reverse course. Physical violence and intimidation should never get in the way of covering police, protesters, presidents and other public matters.”
The Journalist Protection Act’s original co-sponsors include Steve Cohen (TN-9), David Cicilline (RI-1), Grace Napolitano (CA-32), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Andre Carson (IN-7), Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Darren Soto (FL-9), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Jose Serrano (NY-15), Bobby Rush (IL-1), Maxine Waters (CA-43), and Gwen Moore (WI-4).