For Immediate Release – March 12, 2019
Contact: Bernie Lunzer
Unions representing 30,000 reporters, correspondents, photographers, field producers and newsgathering broadcast employees are praising a bill that would make it a federal crime to assault journalists.
The NewsGuild-CWA and NABET-CWA are renewing support for the Journalist Protection Act, introduced in the Senate by Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Robert Menendez of New Jersey and in the House by Rep. Eric Swalwell of California. The legislation was originally filed in 2018.
“American journalists are facing assaults, threats, intimidation and even murder simply for fulfilling their First Amendment duties by reporting the news,” said Bernie Lunzer, president of The NewsGuild. “The Journalist Protection Act strengthens the free press that’s essential to our democracy.”
The bill would make it a federal crime to intentionally cause bodily injury to a journalist engaged in reporting news, or with the intention of intimidating the journalist or impeding news gathering. The term “Journalist” would include reporters, producers, news gathering crews and photographers. The bill calls for punishment of up to six years in prison for convicted offenders.
“Now more than ever, our industry needs the Journalist Protection Act to ensure both our members and their equipment have an extra layer of defense from attacks,” said Charlie Braico, president of NABET-CWA. “It’s also another way of saying in these turbulent times that yes, the First Amendment matters – and it’s worth protecting.”
Among recent physical attacks:
- A San Francisco-based local news crew was robbed at gunpoint early in the evening on Feb. 24, 2019, while covering the Oakland teachers’ strike.
- A BBC cameraman filming a rally featuring President Donald Trump was assaulted by a man wearing a red “Make America Great Again” cap on Feb. 11, 2019, in El Paso, Texas.
- Five people were murdered at The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, by a gunman who blasted his way into the newsroom on June 28, 2018. Four journalists and a sales assistant were killed.
- A reporter for KRCRNews Channel 7 was attacked while broadcasting a Facebook Live event from the scene of a mass overdose in Chico, California, on Jan. 12, 2019.
- A man in Portland, Oregon, was indicted on charges that he stalked and harassed Therese Bottomly, editor of The Oregonian/OregonLive, on Jan. 29, 2019. The man repeatedly states that Bottomly published false information.
- In October 2018, pipe bombs were sent to Democratic politicians and to the offices of CNN.
In April 2018, the annual World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders said the U.S. fell from 43 to 45 out of 180 counties. The U.S. ranking first fell in 2017 after President Trump labeled the press an “enemy of the people” – a phrase also used by Josef Stalin.
“The violent anti-press rhetoric from the White House has been coupled with an increase in the number of press freedom violations at the local level as journalists run the risk of arrest for covering protests or simply attempting to ask public officials questions. Reporters have even been subject to physical assault while on the job,” the group reported in its analysis of the numbers.
At a biennial convention in August 2017, The NewsGuild, NABET and CWA endorsed a resolution calling for legislation to protect journalists.
The NewsGuild-CWA represents journalists and other communications in the
U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.
NABET-CWA, the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians,
represents broadcast workers.