The year 2020 was a crucial period in the United States. Presidential elections took place amidst harsh social tensions across the country. The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020 sparked outrage and widespread demonstrations over systemic racism and police brutality, putting the Black Lives Matter movement at the forefront of the national discourse.
During the protests, journalists – reporting on the demonstrations – faced record attacks by both the police and activists, receiving diverse forms of violence and intimidation. For example, Linda Tirado, a freelance photographer, was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet in Minneapolis, whereas other journalists were arrested for doing their jobs.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a database of press freedom incidents in the US, registered more than 400 claims of assaults on journalists between 25 May and 12 June 2020, and a total of 274 confirmed cases of assault against journalists in 2020. This figure starkly contrasts with the 34 attacks on media that were reported in 2019.
Around this time, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) received increasing queries from journalists about a resource that would summarise their rights when covering protests under the First Amendment and other applicable laws.
CPJ shared with TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro bono service, that the main questions and concerns coming from journalists was what to do should the police ask them to stop recording or take their phones and demand the footage. The non-profit was also interested in dispersal orders – which are common at protests – and curfew rules, under which journalists can be arrested for violations. They wanted to know what information to preserve if journalists were to file a legal claim in the future, and more generally, the best practices that journalists should follow if they were arrested.
The TrustLaw team quickly put them in touch with international law firm Allen & Overy which drafted a concise ‘Know Your Rights’ guide for journalists covering protests in the US.
The guide describes in simple language the protections afforded to journalists during a protest under the First Amendment (e.g., the right to gather news and the right to record) and the Fourth Amendment (e.g., seizure and search) and any subsequent practical tips. It also lays out the legal grounds to arrest a journalist during a protest, as well as any practical tips to avoid charges, and the most common legal avenues to counter potential offences.
Thanks to the quick connection facilitated by TrustLaw and the exceptional resources provided by Allen & Overy, the guide was produced within a short timeframe and disseminated extensively by CPJ among its networks.
The guide filled a gap in the safety information available to journalists in the US and has been shared by CPJ with journalists and newsrooms ahead of several planned protests following summer 2020. It has been read more than 1,000 times on the CPJ’s website and continues to be circulated amongst media professionals, including by the White House Correspondents Association, Online SOS, and U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
Speaking recently about the guide, Jodie Ginsburg, President of CPJ, said “This guide is about preparing journalists for protests. It is something they can use in the moment, but most importantly, it’s a resource that newsrooms and individual journalists can turn to ahead of those situations so they can be fully prepared.”
*This impact story is an updated version of a piece that was originally published on 22 April 2021.