Washington D.C., June 1, 2020– Local and state authorities in the U.S. must stop targeting journalists and media workers covering protests and ensure that the press is exempt from any curfew restrictions, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
“We are horrified by the continued use of harsh and sometimes violent actions of police against journalists doing their jobs. These are direct violations of press freedom, a fundamental Constitutional value of the United States,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna in New York. “We call on local and state officials to explicitly exempt the news media from curfew regulations so that journalists are able to report freely.”
Since May 29, at least 125 press freedom violations have been reported nationwide by journalists covering the demonstrations against the death of a black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis police custody. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a nonpartisan website of which CPJ is a founding partner, is investigating each report and will publish confirmed incidents to its database.
The violations under investigation, including 20 arrests, were collated from social media accounts, news reports, and direct contact with some of the journalists affected.
In one example, on May 29 in Las Vegas, Nevada, two photojournalists, Ellen Schmidt, who works for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and freelancer Bridget Bennett were arrested while working and charged with the misdemeanor of “failure to disperse,” before being released the next day, according to the Reno Gazette Journal.
Police have hit dozens more journalists with tear gas, pepper spray, or rubber bullets—in several cases even as the journalists displayed their press credentials, according to the same sources.
A journalist for Minnesota Public Radio told CPJ she had a gun pointed at her head by police who refused to lower their weapons after she identified herself as a member of the press.
NBC photojournalist Ed Ou told CPJ that on May 30 he was in a group of photographers and video journalists standing apart from protesters in Minneapolis when police fired tear gas, pepper spray, and concussion grenades at them.
Some cities and states have imposed curfews in a bid to contain the demonstrations, some of which have turned violent. Not all of the curfew orders have explicitly exempted members of the press, although some officials, including in Minneapolis, have said that media are exempt after the initial announcement. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has published a map tracking where curfew orders exempt the media.
Journalists can consult CPJ’s safety advisory on how to minimize the risks of covering the protests.