California Strengthens Protections for Journalists Covering Protests

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California has enshrined the right of journalists covering protests and civil demonstrations to access and report from areas closed off by law enforcement under SB 98, a press freedom law signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, reports the Courthouse News Service. The new safeguards explicitly allow reporters to enter and newsgather in areas that have been closed off to the public without the threat of being cited for failing to disperse or breaking curfew.

Under the new law, “duly authorized” representatives of any news service, online news service, newspaper, radio or television station may enter closed areas during protests. If a reporter is detained, the journalist will be permitted to ask for a supervisory officer to immediately challenge the detention. Law enforcement groups roundly opposed the measure, arguing during legislative hearings that allowing reporters to remain in closed off areas adds to the unpredictable nature of civil protests. The opponents proposed amendments that would have required journalists to seek permission from law enforcement before entering the area. According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a record number of journalists were attacked in 2020 with most of the assaults attributed to law enforcement during the Black Lives Matter protest

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