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.
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.