Tracking press freedom in the U.S.


by: Leah Alsept, Staff Writer

Press freedom and protection is something of a hot topic lately as riots, protests, and the persisting coronavirus affects the world around us. 

We live in a world that requires the utmost vigilance in knowing the news and being at least a smidgen updated with politics. Journalists of all kinds—ranging from freelance to the Associated Press, informs the public of what is happening in their world and outside of it with hopefully little bias so the audience can form their own opinion. 

According to the US Press Freedom Tracker, more than 650 aggressions towards journalists have occurred since the protests began over George Floyd’s Memorial Day death. Many of these aggressions are being counted as physical attacks, along with arrests, criminal charges, and equipment seizures and damages. The majority of attacks occurred during the end of May and beginning of June. 

The Committee to Protect Journalist’s (CPJ) has tracked journalist deaths since 1992. There have been 1,378 motive confirmed deaths across the world with 11 of those located in the USA. Motives can range from dangerous assignments, murder, or caught in crossfire or combat. The United States is ranked 45 out of 180 countries in the press freedom index from a study done by Reporters Without Borders, which advocates press freedom. The number one country for press freedom is Norway. 

With social media on the rise as a formidable way to consume news between other platforms like television and newspapers, incidents against the press become more apparent when individuals can take out their phone and record it happening from multiple perspectives. 

One incident that stands out is the arrest of Omar Jiminez during a live shoot on May 29. Omar Jiminez is a correspondant for CNN. A six-and-a-half-minute broadcast clip shows Jiminez and his crew led away one by one in handcuffs by the Minneapolis state patrol.

Jiminez clearly stated he was a journalist and continued to explain the situation as calmly as possible towards the camera. The other crew member spoke to CNN headquarters and stated, “I’m probably gonna [sic] be taken in a minute,” while the anchors at the headquarters watch stunned. The camera is live on the ground while the cameraman is handcuffed and taken into custody. Jiminez tweeted a photograph of him and the cameraman a few hours later with the caption, “And we’re back,” indicating he and his crew returned to the air.

Another journalist, freelance photographer Linda Tirado, was shot with a rubber bullet by police and permanently blinded in her left eye, “[What] we think happened is I took a rubber bullet to the face….My vision is gone no matter what it winds up looking like scar wise,” she said on Twitter May 30. Photos from her Patreon show the final moments before she was shot covering the protests Minneapolis.

“I just closed my eyes and started yelling, ‘I’m press! I’m press!’ and protestors came and pulled me, put me in a van, got me to the hospital—I was in surgery within an hour,” she told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) News in an interview on June 1.

Does covering dangerous assignments come with the territory? Journalists put themselves in the line of fire as Jiminez and his crew did that morning. Tirado returned to regular life with different sight. 

Trump, since before his presidency, has had a disdain for the media. Trump vocally expresses his disdain for certain media outlets like CNN and the New York Times and equally shares his views on Twitter. Slowly, but surely, journalists have lost some protections even if they still lie in the Constitution. They can get attacked and arrested, which is a clear violation of their First Amendment right of free speech. “Fake news” is touted so frequently on Trump’s twitter account that there are 869 mentions of fake news from Jan. 2016 to Aug. 2020 as compiled by the Trump Twitter Archive.

Journalists are protected by the Constitution under the First Amendment. This will always be true. Journalists with integrity must also hold themselves to high standards to adequately deliver news to the public. Journalists now fear for their livelihoods because of the culture Trump has cultivated around news media. I want journalists to be protected under their constitutional rights. In any instance, journalists’ core purpose is to work for the people.

Trump is right: fake news IS out there, but there are ways to combat it—ways to step out of the bubble and understand real news. Allow yourself to look beyond the news that you normally consume. Double check questionable statements by looking to see if other reputable news sources are reporting the same thing.

In a special CPJ report written by Leonard Downie Jr. aided by Stephanie Sugars released in April 2020, Downie notes the de-legitimization of the press by Trump. In an interview for the report, former CNN cable news anchor and current director of George Washington’s University’s School of Media said this: “It is an Orwellian barrage of dehumanizing language about the purpose of the job, people who do the job and the organizations that employ them. It is a continuing assault on a free press – and on the public’s right to know and the public’s understanding of the role of the press in a democracy,” with Orwellian referring to the dystopian worlds George Orwell created in his fiction.

My call to action is this: Read the news. Support your local newscasters and reporters and be keen on identifying fake news versus real news. Pay attention to attacks on the press.

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