Commentary

Lawmakers Introduce Bills To Protect Journalists From Harm, Surveillance

The economic threats to news publishers have led Washington lawmakers to weigh a variety of proposals to boost advertising and subscription revenue. But newsroom employees face other kinds of on-the-job threats that recently introduced bills seek to address.

Amid the surge in physical attacks on journalists in the past year, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) last week introduced the Journalist Protection Act in Congress. The legislation would make it a federal crime to intentionally intimidate or cause bodily injury to a journalist who is reporting. It also would empower the Justice Department to prosecute alleged assailants when local authorities decide not to.

The bill comes as the number of physical attacks on journalists has surged in the past couple of years.

Amid last summer’s protests against racism and police violence, reported incidents surged more than tenfold last year to 443, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. Attacks remain elevated at 107 reported so far this year, including reports of journalists being shot at, robbed of camera equipment or physically attacked either by protestors or police officers.


It’s not clear if the bill will make much headway, given that it was introduced without bipartisan sponsorship. Of course, there are plenty of other laws against assault and battery, or robbing people of their belongings.
Amid revelations the Justice Department has repeatedly surveilled reporters, there may be greater urgency to approve the Protect Reporters from Exploitive State Spying (PRESS) Act, which has languished in Congress since being first passed by the House in 2007. The bill would provide journalists with greater privileges to avoid revealing confidential sources in federal court proceedings.
The bill has the support of trade groups, including the News Media Alliance, National Association of Broadcasters, the Radio Television Digital News Association, Society of Professional Journalists and the MPA-The Association of Magazine Media.
Given that the bill has a history of bipartisan support, it stands a greater chance of being signed into law.

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