Senator McGuire introduces legislation to protect press and journalists from being intentionally attacked and detained

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Sacramento, CA – Freedom of the press is one of the foundations upon which America was born. That said, those freedoms are under attack here in 2020.

Intentional attacks or detainments of reporters and members of the press in the United States in 2020 have increased significantly, particularly during the nationwide anti-racism protests, according to the US Press Freedom Tracker, the Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

During recent protests reporters have been hit by rubber bullets, struck with batons, sprayed with tear gas, and detained, all while performing their critical role of documenting and informing the public of current events. 

Senator Mike McGuire introduced SB 629, which will enhance and extend access and protections to members of the media who are attending demonstrations in order to gather vital information.

“Members of the press risk their personal health and safety each time they attend protests or rallies to get the public the information they need and deserve. Rubber bullets, tear gas, and even detainment cannot be the new norm for an essential pillar of our nation’s democracy. California must lead the way to ensure the right of the press and the First Amendment are protected and held to the highest standard,” Senator McGuire said. “SB 629 - The Press Freedom Act - will help ensure journalists can perform these critical roles while being protected under the law from any law enforcement officer intentionally assaulting, obstructing or interfering with their duties while they are gathering the news.” 

SB 629 - the Press Freedom Act - will ensure that journalists are protected as they attend demonstrations, marches, protests, and rallies. It will prohibit law enforcement officers from obstructing, detaining, assaulting or otherwise preventing the press from fulfilling their constitutional mandate in reporting on these events by making it a misdemeanor for any peace officer to do so. 

Recent police action demonstrates that these statutory protections are critical to ensure our democratic system has access to newsworthy information to inform the discussion on the crucial issues that California and the nation face.

During protests throughout California in May, numerous reporters were injured during incidents with law enforcement. 

For example, a reporter for KCRW, a Santa Monica NPR affiliate, was reporting at Beverly Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue when she was hit by a rubber bullet. She was holding her press badge above her head at the time. 

A Buzzfeed News reporter was detained by the Santa Monica Police while documenting a protest. 

A KPIX CBS affiliate reporter was detained by law enforcement while reporting on protests in Oakland. 

A San Diego Union-Tribune reporter was shot with pepper balls while he was documenting protests in La Mesa.

While California law allows reporters and members of the press to enter natural disaster emergency areas for the purpose of gathering information, these protections do not expressly extend to protests. SB 629 provides these protections.

The legislation is supported by the California News Publisher’s Association, The California Broadcasters Association, California Black Media, Impremedia, Ethnic Media Services and the First Amendment Coalition. 

The legislation is co-authored by: Senators Hertzberg, Hill, Wiener, Gonzalez, Portantino and Skinner and Assemblymember Wicks.

SB 629 will be heard in the Assembly Public Safety Committee in the coming weeks.