RTDNA and its Voice of the First Amendment Task Force today expressed support for a bill filed in the U.S. House of Representatives that would make it a “federal crime to intentionally cause bodily injury to a journalist affecting interstate or foreign commerce in the course of reporting or in a manner designed to intimidate him or her from newsgathering for a media organization.”
The bill was introduced February 5 by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-California), who serves on the House Judiciary Committee. It was filed with 12 co-sponsors.
In a news release announcing the legislation, Swalwell said the bill is a direct result of what he characterized as President Trump’s creation of a “a climate of extreme hostility to the press by describing mainstream media outlets as ‘a stain on America,’ ‘trying to take away our history and our heritage,’ and ‘the enemy of the American People.’”
According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, of which RTDNA is a founding partner, there were 44 physical attacks on journalists across the country in 2017. Thirty of those assaults occurred while journalists were covering protests and two came at the hands of politicians.
“We did not seek this legislation because we do not believe journalists deserve what critics of this bill may very well deem ‘special protection.’ In fact, RTDNA believes no person should ever be physically attacked or intimidated. Unfortunately, the times in which we now live make such a law necessary and we are grateful to Rep. Swalwell and his co-sponsors for their efforts,” said Dan Shelley, RTDNA Executive Director.
The legislation is also supported by News Media for Open Government, a coalition of press freedom groups of which RTDNA is a member.
“The safety of journalists is not a partisan issue, nor should it become one. We look forward to working with Members of Congress and other influential voices in society to defend and protect those who keep the public informed,” said Rick Blum, NMOG Director.
“President Donald Trump’s campaign and administration have created a toxic atmosphere,” Swalwell said in his news release. “It’s not just about labelling reports of his constant falsehoods as #FakeNews – it’s his casting of media personalities and outlets as anti-American targets, and encouraging people to engage in violence.”
“To be sure, not every attack on a journalist is committed by a supporter of the president. However, it is increasingly clear that a higher level of hostility exists between some members of the public and responsible journalists. No one in America should be concerned they may be harmed merely for lawfully doing their jobs,” Shelley added.
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. Reach out to the task force by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.