Varied representatives of the media suffer from a misapprehension – that they have some special set of rights not available to the rest of us. True, in the US, there actually are some such rights, shield laws and the like, but that’s not the point being made here. Rather, about the right to stand around in the street, to observe, to not have to move on when asked by the police and all that.
Yes, yes, speaking truth to power and all that. Even, that many a time people will grant special access to those who appear to be writing things down. But as far as the law is concerned – and definitely as far as the law ought to be – journalists are just we citizenry writing stuff down and journalists enjoy, and should enjoy, the same rights we citizenry do.
Journalists covering the protests and riots that have erupted in US cities after the killing of George Floyd have reported being shot at, teargassed and arrested, as well as being intimidated by crowds.
More than 50 incidents of violence and harassment against media workers were reported on social media and in news outlets on Friday and Saturday, according to a tally the Guardian collated.
They included the blinding of Linda Tirado, a freelance photojournalist and activist who has contributed to the Guardian, who was hit in the eye with a nonlethal round while covering unrest in Minneapolis; the arrest of the HuffPost US reporter Chris Mathias during protests in New York; and the shooting of the Swedish foreign correspondent Nina Svanberg, who was struck in the leg by several rubber bullets on Friday night.
I don’t wish a blinding upon anyone, not even a freelance for the Guardian. But all sorts of people are being shot at, gassed, and it’s not just the police doing the attacking either. And journalists are not some special caste – as with say medical facilities behind the frontline of a battlefield – with privileges.
As an analogy the difference between US and UK police. Over there they really are special. The law is different as we’re about to find out in the trial of the cop the rioting is over. What would be an open and shut case of manslaughter (the man died under restraint, whatever else happened) won’t be that simple over there for cops aren’t judged by the same set of laws. Over here – OK, perhaps more in theory that actuality but still – the police don’t have any superpowers. Even that ability to arrest is one held by any and every citizen. As Bobby Peel pointed out, the police simply are the citizenry.
So it is and should be with journalists. They – if you like, as I can be described as one, we – are not a special caste with privileges. It’s even possible to agree that journalism is important, the speaking truth to power but and all that if you like, but we’re still not special in law.
Tear gas and rubber bullets are flying around? No one has any duty to make sure journos aren’t discomfited by that simply because there’s nothing, and righteously so, about journalists.