Democrats in both the U.S. House and Senate have re-introduced a Journalism Protection Act that designates "certain attacks on those reporting the news" as a federal crime.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, and Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California, introduced the bill this week.
“The Journalist Protection Act makes 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,” according to a statement. “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.”
The lawmakers introduced the bill as a response to President Trump’s “climate of extreme hostility” toward the media, both before and since taking office, according to the statement.
Trump has called the press ‘the enemy of the American people,’ and described mainstream media outlets as a ‘stain on America.’ ”
"Such antagonistic rhetoric encourages others to think, regardless of their views, that violence against journalists is more acceptable," according to the release.
Swalwell introduced a similar bill in 2018 when the House was under Republican control. Democrats regained control of the House in January.
Professional journalism groups have differed in their opinions of the bill and its potential value.
On March 12, the national Society of Professional Journalists released a statement saying it "strongly" supports the bill.
“In light of the recent rhetoric and hostility against journalists that has been amplified by a number of elected leaders, the need for safeguards called for in the Journalist Protection Act is as critical as ever,” Danielle McLean, the Society of Professional Journalist's national Freedom of Information Committee chair, said in the statement.
The organization's statement cited last month's shoving of a BBC cameraman at a Trump rally as one example of why federal penalties for attacks on journalists are urgently needed.
SPJ President Alex Tarquinio urged politicians, law enforcement and the public to consider the value of newsgathering during the politically divisive 2020 electoral campaign.
But the head of the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists said its board has not discussed the policy at length and hasn’t taken a position.
“However, in my opinion, I don't believe the bill is necessary,” said Connecticut SPJ President Bruno Matarazzo Jr. “State laws are sufficient in dealing with threats, assaults or worse against journalists. I don't believe it's necessary to make a federal case when a journalist is the victim of a crime.”
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