The RTDNA Voice of the First Amendment Task Force condemns the recent threats and assaults of journalists and members of the general public in Berkeley, California, perpetrated by people in a number of groups widely known to espouse anarchist views.
According to a report by the Associated Press and other news media accounts, dozens of protestors attacked a peaceful “Rally Against Hate” August 27. Some of the protestors beat rally-goers. Some told reporters, photojournalists and a documentary filmmaker they would smash their cameras and attack them if they didn’t stop recording. Some journalists were indeed attacked.
The documentary filmmaker, Leighton Woodhouse, wrote later, “We were targets because we had cameras.” Frank Somerville, an anchor at KTVU-TV, wrote, “Hate is hate. And I experienced it firsthand today.”
Public radio station KQED reported that one if its journalists, John Sepulvado, was also threatened with physical violence while trying to document the incident. However, Sepulvado did manage to record a startling video of another man using a smartphone camera being beaten by protestors.
“It is never acceptable to threaten or assault anyone, journalists or others. The fact these particular threats and assaults came from people who purport to have leftist political views does not give them a pass,” said Dan Shelley, RTDNA Incoming Executive Director, who spearheads the task force. “Furthermore, several federal appeals courts have ruled that all citizens have a right to photograph or record events in public places as long as it doesn't interfere with public safety. Anyone impeding that right is acting in contradiction of the First Amendment.”
The protestors raided a rally that was designed as a counter-protest of a scheduled alt-right gathering earlier that day that had been cancelled, although a few alt-right demonstrators did show up.
Such violence targeting journalists is not new in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since 2011, news crews have been the victims of various forms of thuggery more than 80 times. Television stations in the area routinely hire guards to protect their reporters and photojournalists on everyday assignments.
“When journalists are obstructed, threatened, harassed, arrested, or assaulted, they are victims of the current divisive ideological environment that far too often leads to violence. But the real victims are the members of the public those journalists are attempting to serve by seeking and reporting the truth. Anarchists or others who use threats and violence to stifle any American’s Constitutional rights are to be condemned,” said Shelley.
RTDNA formed the nonpartisan Voice of the First Amendment Task Force to defend against threats to the First Amendment and news media access, and to help the public better understand why responsible journalism is essential to their daily lives. It is a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the archive of record for threats to press freedom in America. People wishing to support RTDNA’s efforts may reach out to the task force by emailing email@example.com.