Menendez, Colleagues Introduce Bicameral Journalist Protection Act

Mar 20, 2019

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Congressman Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.-15), have introduced a bill to make physical attacks, and threats of such attacks, against journalists a federal crime. The Journalist Protection Act was unveiled earlier this month, at the beginning of Sunshine Week, which recognizes the importance of free and unfettered access to information.

“Over 200 years ago, our Founding Fathers had the foresight to recognize the importance of a free press to a fledgling democracy. Now, more than ever, their importance can’t be overstated,” said Menendez. “Despite the dangerous rhetoric coming from the Trump administration, and yet another disturbing attack on a journalist covering a MAGA rally, a free press will never be the enemy of the people.

“A free and independent press – a strong Fourth Estate – is essential to the American people and our democracy, ensuring an informed public and holding those in power accountable.”

Blumenthal added, “The values celebrated during Sunshine Week – accountability through transparency, access to public information, and freedom of the press – are under attack like never before. Under this administration, reporters face a near-constant barrage of verbal threats, casting the media as enemies of the American people and possible targets of violence. This bill makes clear that engaging in any kind of violence against members of the media will simply not be tolerated.”

The Journalist Protection Act makes it a federal crime to intentionally cause physical harm or threaten physical harm to a journalist while he or she is doing his or her job. “It represents a clear statement that assaults against people engaged in reporting is unacceptable, and helps ensure law enforcement is able to punish those who interfere with newsgathering,” states a press release from the office of Menendez.

As the release also points out, “citing President Trump’s rhetoric bashing the media, the international organization Reporters Without Borders dropped the United States’ ranking in its annual World Press Freedom Index by two points, to 45 overall, last April.”

The bill is supported by the Communications Workers of America and by News Media for Open Government, a broad coalition of news media and journalism organizations working to ensure that laws, policies and practices preserve and protect freedom of the press, open government and the free flow of information in our democratic society.

“A journalist should not have to worry about threats of harassment or physical attacks solely for doing their jobs and informing the public,” said Melissa Wasser, coalition director for News Media for Open Government. “Forty-eight journalists faced physical attacks while gathering and reporting the news in 2018, as documented by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. More than two dozen newsrooms have received hoax bomb threats, disrupting their operations. Not only is the role of the news media in our democracy under attack, but the safety of individual journalists is threatened. The Journalist Protection Act would not elevate journalists to a special status, but rather would ensure they receive the same protections if attacked while gathering and reporting the news.” —J.K.-H.

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