A coalition of journalism groups sent a letter to Los Angeles law enforcement agencies and government leaders Tuesday, demanding that media be given appropriate access to cover public protests and not be arrested while working in areas where dispersal orders have been issued.
“Journalists in Southern California and elsewhere have been detained, tackled, sprayed with tear gas, hit with rubber bullets and arrested, preventing them from providing the public with urgently needed information and putting their health and safety at great risk,” according to the letter. “Law enforcement officers, and government agencies more broadly, must not interfere with journalists as they work to provide accurate information on these protests and law enforcement’s response to them.”
The letter was sent by the Asian American Journalists Association Los Angeles, the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, National Association of Black Journalists of Los Angeles, Latino Journalists of California, Los Angeles Press Club and Media Guild of the West.
The issue of journalists being detained while covering protests was highlighted during the recent clearing of a homeless encampment at Echo Park. Several journalists were detained while covering the event, which led to law enforcement declaring unlawful assemblies as protesters gathered. Reporters said they were detained despite identifying themselves as media.
In a Twitter post over the weekend, Sheriff Alex Villanueva — referring to preparations for possible unrest following a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial in Minnesota — said deputies will support reporters in their efforts to cover protests, “but that support does not extend into allowing members of the media to become part of the problem once an assembly has been declared unlawful.”
Law enforcement officials said following the Echo Park events that a media staging area had been established for reporters covering the operation, and those detained had left that area and were among protesters who ignored dispersal orders. Media countered, however, that the staging area was established too far away from the activity, restricting the ability to cover interactions between police and protesters.
The letter from the media groups demanded:
— an end to the arrest or detention of journalists “who are covering events in areas where officers have issued a dispersal order or declared an unlawful assembly”;
— assurance that media will have “sight and sound” access to events;
— assurance that media credentials are not required for coverage of demonstrations;
— full access for individuals identifying themselves as journalists; and
— recognition that “newsgathering is squarely protected by the First Amendment.”