Jul 28, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Press freedom incidents have surged during police protests

An illustration of a microphone

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There have been over 546 total press freedom incidents in the U.S. in the past few months, with roughly 137 — over 25% — coming from law enforcement, according to new data from the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

The state of play: Of the 125 physical attacks on the press during the recent protests, 77 have come from law enforcement.

  • New police rules also threaten journalists' access and independence.

Driving the news: The escalating protests in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere around the country are causing a surge in incidents, which were going down after the initial protests had begun in late May.

  • In Portland, there have been 52 reports of journalists being abused, according to the Press Freedom Tracker, cited by Columbia Journalism Review.
  • In Seattle, journalists are angry that a Seattle judge ruled that five outlets, including the Seattle Times, must hand over unreleased photos and videos of a protest in May to help law enforcement solve an investigation.
  • In New York, the police department has put forth new rules for review that give officers the ability to further restrict journalists from covering police activity.

Be smart: Experts fear that police are using the excuse of protecting federal property to suppress protest coverage.

  • "I do think that the federal forces in Portland appear to be using the presence of federal property as an excuse to operate, not a reason — and that those operations are threatening to chill press reporting and broader free expression," says Joshua Geltzer, executive director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law Center.
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