A watchdog group noted 68 incidents of journalists being arrested, assaulted, or having their equipment damaged by police officers while covering civil unrest.
Journalists and media watchdog groups in the US are sounding the alarm over a number of incidents targeting newsworkers covering the ongoing unrest over the killing of African-American George Floyd by a police officer.
New York-based NGO the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it had noted 68 incidents of police arresting journalists, assaulting them, or damaging their equipment.
The organisation also noted that some protesters had also been involved in the intimidation.
“The police appear to be responsible for the majority of incidents, although crowds and protesters have also targeted media workers.” CPJ said in a statement.
“Targeted attacks on journalists, media crews, and news organizations covering the demonstrations show a complete disregard for their critical role in documenting issues of public interest and are an unacceptable attempt to intimidate them,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martínez de la Serna.
A number of high profile incidents have come to light since the killing of Floyd on May 25.
In one of the most infamous incidents, black CNN reporter Omar Jimenez was arrested live on-air while describing the scene in Minneapolis after a night of police violence and rioting. The journalist was heard repeatedly telling the arresting officers that he was with the media to no avail.
On May 31, black CNN commentator, Keith Boyker, said he was arrested in New York while taking photos and video of unrest to share on Twitter.
Many commentators have warned that black reporters face a heightened risk of harassment from US police officers.
Former president of the PEN American Center, Francine Prose, wrote: “One shudders to think what might have happened to Jimenez, a black man in a tense confrontation with law enforcement, had he not been employed by CNN and accompanied by a camera crew.”
Journalist loses eye
Nevertheless, not all incidents of police targeting journalists involved African-American journalists.
Freelance photographer, Linda Tirado, was permanently blinded in one eye after she was shot at by Minneapolis police.
“I was aiming my next shot, put my camera down for a second, and then my face exploded,” she told the New York Times.
Crews from NBC News in Minneapolis and local outlet, Wave 3, in Louisville had their run-ins with the police caught on camera. In the case of the former, witnesses reported being targeted with an ‘explosive device’ and in the latter cameras caught the moment police fired pepper balls at the camera and crew.
In another incident, Vice reporter Michael Anthony Adams, was filmed repeatedly telling police officers that he was with the press before being hit with a blast of pepper spray. Responding to his protestations, one officer replied “I don’t care”.
Examples of protester harassment of journalists includes the intimidation of a pro-Trump Fox News crew near the White House and the defacement of a CNN facade outside its headquarters in Atlanta.
Distrust and ‘fake’ news
The media industry in general over the past decade has had to deal with increasing distrust from politicians and ordinary people alike.
A 2019 Gallup poll showed that 41 percent of Americans trust mainstream media outlets to report events in a fair and accurate manner, down from a high of 55 percent in 20 years earlier.
That faith has been eroded away with help from politicians, especially current US President Donald Trump, who has declared them ‘the enemy of the people’.
The US president has regularly accused the mainstream media of biased coverage of his tenure at the White House and of making up the most egregious accusations that he faces over his financial record and alleged sexual improprieties.
While there is no evidence to suggest that police officers targeting journalists are motivated by the president’s attitude, Trump has made no secret of who he blames for the current unrest.
On his Twitter account on Sunday, he wrote: “The Lamestream Media is doing everything within their power to foment hatred and anarchy. As long as everybody understands what they are doing, that they are FAKE NEWS and truly bad people with a sick agenda, we can easily work through them to GREATNESS!”