Every May 3, World Press Freedom Day is celebrated internationally. It’s a day set aside to recognize the importance of an independent press around the world, and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives doing their jobs. The day is mostly aimed at authoritarian regimes, which regularly jail journalists and shut down media outlets that dare question government leaders. In many cases, journalists are tortured, and some are even killed.
We learned this week that journalists in the United States are not exempt from violent attacks on reporters, as we have seen during the national protests over the police-caused death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. According to this report from the Nieman Lab, “U.S. police have attacked journalists at least 100 times in the past four days.” This is outrageous, but not surprising when our president calls journalists the “enemy of the people.”
In a democracy, the targeting of journalists for covering the news must be condemned loudly whenever and wherever it happens. That’s why those who believe in a free and independent media must call out police who have been targeting journalists for arrest and violence.
The Institute for Media and Public Trust stands with the journalists who have been subjected to arrests and violent acts merely for doing their jobs. We condemn these attacks, and demand that journalists be allowed to do their jobs on behalf of the people.
Consider the chaos that would ensue if journalists weren’t documenting the events surrounding the protests, and your understanding of what was occurring came only from the rumor mill that circulates on social media.
Those violently attacking journalists must understand this about reporters: You can’t hide the truth by arresting journalists. They’ll be even more determined to accurately document the facts through on-the-scene reporting.
Still, it is disheartening that anyone, especially police who are sworn to uphold the law, would take their frustrations out on journalists. Shooting them with rubber bullets or firing tear gas canisters at them after they have identified themselves as journalists is something we would expect to see in countries run by despots.
The role of the media is crucial to our democracy, which is why freedom of the press is specifically listed in the First Amendment. We must have an informed citizenry to have a properly functioning democracy. The news media sort out complex issues for us, going to all sides to offer news consumers all viewpoints on the challenges facing our communities. That allows citizens to make collective decisions armed with all the facts.
Chuck Champion, president and CEO of the California News Publishers Association, says during troubled times, “it is vital that communities continue to have access to the type of authoritative information that journalists provide.” Authorities should be protecting journalists who are gathering the news instead of targeting them, he said.
“Additionally, to the extent public officials decide that curfew orders are necessary to protect public safety, the media must be designated as essential and specifically exempt from these orders,” Champion said in a statement released by the CNPA.
“At this moment in time, we pray that the work of journalists in California will be the catalyst that augurs for recognition of our biases and a meaningful effort to change them.”
Journalists are not the enemy. They work for all of us.