Media group calls on Congress to protect journalists

    The ruins of what used to stand at an intersection near the Minneapolis Police Department Fifth Precinct. | Macklin Caruso/Minnesota Reformer

    A national coalition of media groups on Wednesday urged congressional leaders to pass the Journalist Protection Act.

    The legislation, S.751, introduced by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, (D-Conn.) and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, (D-N.J.), and H.R. 1684, introduced by U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, (D-Calif.), would make it a federal crime to intentionally cause bodily injury or threaten a journalist in a manner designed to intimidate them from gathering or reporting the news.

    U.S. Capitol | Susan J. Demas

    The News Media for Open Government (NMOG) is a group of several organizations including American Society of News Editors; the Associated Press; Association of Alternative Newsmedia; National Newspaper Association; Radio Television Digital News Association; and Society of Professional Journalists.

    The coalition believes that passing the measures would send a strong message by affirming the First Amendment protections. It would also give federal prosecutors the ability to prosecute people who assault or intimidate journalists, if state or local prosecutors fail to do so.

    “Journalists play an important role in our nation’s democracy,” the letter reads. “By gathering and reporting the news, they ensure that our nation’s citizens know what is going on in their communities and how the government is responding to events of the day. 

    “Journalists report from the front lines to cover news events, often putting their health and safety at risk, including most recently the public protests in reaction to George Floyd’s killing, as well as the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fact-based, credible news has never been more important as citizens in our country crave information about what is going on around them.”

    The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, which has been monitoring assaults and threats against the press in recent years, found that during one three-day period at the end of May 2020, there were roughly 100 attacks or other intimidating actions against the press. It has contributed to an overall number of more than 500 for the year. 

    Ken Coleman
    Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.