News Coverage During Civil Unrest

The tragic events of last weekend demonstrate the importance of broadcast journalists.  The death of George Floyd while in police custody was simply inexcusable. This horrible event has triggered a soul searching debate in this country about race, law enforcement, social justice and inequality. We support those who are exercising their First Amendment rights to lawfully protest. We also recognize that some of these events have turned violent, placing incredible pressure law enforcement officials trying to protect lives and property. At the same time, journalists covering these events are often placed in harm’s way.   

NYSBA salutes the journalists who risked their own lives to provide us with the story.  While we recognize the intensity of these situations, we respectfully request that local police departments refrain from arresting of journalists covering these events. They are essential to inform the public. Federal, state and local officials recognize the news media is an essential service. We are equally concerned about journalists who have been injured covering these important events.  Some journalists have been injured by police shooting non-lethal devices to disperse a crowd.  Other journalists have been assaulted by protesters. Mickey Osterreicher and Alicia Wagner Calzada with the National News Press Photographers Association noted:

“In the space of 48 hours, there were several reports of police shooting photojournalists with projectiles, some at close range — resulting in at least one photographer losing an eye. There were over 20 reports of journalists being arrested and charged with minor offenses in thinly veiled attempts to stop them from covering the protests or police activities. Other news crews were intentionally targeted and shot at for no apparent reason other than they were clearly journalists. This is against the backdrop of the many incidents where journalists were attacked and beaten by protestors, who also stole or damaged their equipment and destroyed their vehicles.”

Broadcast journalists fulfill an essential role in our democracy. Now, more than ever, our country needs journalists to provide American citizens with the facts. 

Nonetheless, journalists entering dangerous situations must be prepared. Situational awareness is essential. It is important to know your rights. Several organizations have created guidelines to help reporters during dangerous assignments. 

RTDNA:  Discussion of Journalist Responsibility and Safety (includes a great video discussing the issues)

RTDNA:  Civil Unrest Guidelines

RTDNA: Guidelines for  Journalist Arrests

RTDNA: Ethical Questions  for Journalists Covering Protests

National Press Photographers Association – Tips to Stay Safe on the Street

National Press Photographers Association – Covering High Conflict News

Poynter Institute  – Guidelines for Covering Protests

Committee to Protect Journalists during Civil Disturbances

Society of Professional Journalists – Journalists Tool box for Reporting on Race

NAB Tool Kit on Covering Protests 


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