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VIDEO | 22:01
Flashpoint

Flashpoint

Despite the promise of the First Amendment, the rights of journalists to cover protests have never been secure.

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Threats to press freedom in the United States are serious and sustained, with journalists experiencing some of the most significant challenges when reporting on protests. In recent years, hundreds have been arrested, physically assaulted or injured by law enforcement for doing their constitutionally protected jobs. The frequency and intensity of these incidents were particularly acute during the racial justice following George Floyd’s murder in 2020.

“Flashpoint: Protests, Policing, and the Press” features first-hand accounts from journalists who were assaulted or arrested while reporting at protests. Some represent legacy media outlets. Many are freelancers building careers in an evolving media landscape. All were reporting on the conduct of demonstrators, counterdemonstrators and law enforcement when they were met with aggressive policing.

Their stories epitomize the conflict and tension experienced on the frontlines of protest, the changing look of the press, and the hardening of law enforcement’s attitudes toward journalists, especially journalists of color. “Flashpoint” sets the stage for a larger conversation about the need for reform.

“Flashpoint’s” genesis is a Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University report titled Covering Democracy: Protests, Police, and the Press, written by Joel Simon, director of the Journalism Protection Initiative at the Newmark Journalism School and a 2022-2023 visiting fellow at the Knight Institute. The report documents the police’s deliberate and aggressive targeting of journalists during demonstrations, examines the historical context and explores the challenges of determining who is a journalist in a media landscape transformed by technology.

Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances: These are bedrock principles of our democracy. The press plays an integral role in protecting protest rights by ensuring that protesters’ ideas enter the public debate. Law enforcement agencies are obligated to protect these rights.

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