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house Bill H.R. 1684

Should Assaulting a Journalist be a Federal Crime?

Argument in favor

Anti-journalist rhetoric is out of control and by making it a federal crime to assault a journalist this bill would send a clear message that such violence won’t be tolerated.

Dawn's Opinion
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05/14/2019
Yes, they should be protected. They put their lives at risk, more so now because of a sick, deranged President.
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Argument opposed

Assault is already a crime that states enforce, and there’s no apparent wave of violence against journalists. This bill is purely an attempt to score political points.

Brad's Opinion
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05/10/2019
No, the citizen should be treated under currently imposed assault laws. Rather, the reporter should be prosecuted for harassment under current civil laws.
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bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
  • The house has not voted
      house Committees
      Committee on the Judiciary
      Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security
    IntroducedMarch 12th, 2019

What is House Bill H.R. 1684?

This bill — the Journalist Protection Act — would make assault against journalists a federal crime if the assault is committed while the journalist is news-gathering or done to intimidate or impede news-gathering by the journalist. Causing bodily injury to a journalist would be punishable by up to three years imprisonment and fines, while serious bodily injury would be punished by up to six years imprisonment and fines.

Impact

Journalists who are assaulted and their attackers; and the judicial system.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 1684

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) rentroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to make it a federal crime to intentionally cause bodily injury to a journalist affecting interstate or foreign commerce in the course of reporting, or in a manner designed to intimidate them from newsgathering for a media organization: 

“From tweeting #FakeNews to proclaiming his contempt for the media during campaign rallies, the President has created a hostile environment for members of the press. A healthy democracy depends on a free press unencumbered by threats of violence. We must protect journalists in every corner of our country if they are attacked physically while doing their job, and send a strong, clear message that such violence will not be tolerated. That is what my bill, the Journalist Protection Act, would do.”

Rep. Swalwell originally introduced this bill last Congress to make a federal crime of certain attacks on journalists reporting the news:

“President Donald Trump’s campaign and administration have created a toxic atmosphere. It’s not just about labelling reports of his constant falsehoods as #FakeNews — it’s his casting of media personalities and outlets as anti-American targets, and encouraging people to engage in violence.Not all attacks on journalists this year have been committed by Trump supporters, but the fact remains that rhetoric emanating from the world’s most powerful office is stoking an environment in which these attacks proliferate. We must send a loud, clear message that such violence won’t be tolerated.”

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) supports this bill. TheNewsGuild's president, Bernie Lunzer, says

“American journalists are facing assaults, threats, intimidation and even murder simply for fulfilling their First Amendment duties by reporting the news. The Journalist Protection Act strengthens the free press that’s essential to our democracy.”

In a column for The Daily Signal, Amy Swearer — a visiting legal fellow at the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation — wrote in opposition to this bill:

“While the president has occasionally spoken out harshly against the media, he has not deviated from previous administrations in his legal treatment of them. The press has not been restricted in any substantive way, and the First Amendment remains a shining example of liberty even as countries like France move to suppress anything the government deems 'fake news.' The federal criminal code is already dangerously broad and complex, and there is no need to add a toothless statute that duplicates vigorously enforced state laws and amounts to little more than political pandering. This is particularly so when, like the Journalist Protection Act, the statute is a solution in need of a problem.”

This bill has 13 Democratic House cosponsors in the 116th Congress. A Senate companion bill, sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), has been introduced with the support of one cosponsor, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

In the 115th Congress, this bill had the support of 12 Democratic House cosponsors and didn't  receive a committee vote. The Senate companion bill, sponsored by Sens. Blumenthal and Menendez, also didn't see committee action.

The News Media Alliance, Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA)San Francisco Chronicle, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ)Communications Workers of America (CWA) and News Media for Open Government, a broad coalition of news media and journalism organizations working to ensure that laws, policies and practices preserve and protect freedom of the press, open government and the free flow of information in our democratic society, support this bill.


Of Note: Rep. Swalwell's office contends that "before and since taking office, President Trump has blatantly stoked a climate of extreme hostility toward the press" by calling the press "the enemy of the American people" and describing mainstream media outlets as "a stain on America." He's also called the media an "enemy of the state."

There have been a number of recent physical attacks and threats against American journalists. They include: 

  • A San Francisco-based local news crew was robbed at gunpoint early in the evening on Feb. 24, 2019, while covering the Oakland teachers’ strike.
  • A BBC cameraman filming a rally featuring President Donald Trump was assaulted by a man wearing a red “Make America Great Again” cap on Feb. 11, 2019, in El Paso, Texas.
  • Five people were murdered at The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, by a gunman who blasted his way into the newsroom on June 28, 2018. Four journalists and a sales assistant were killed.
  • A reporter for KRCRNews Channel 7 was attacked while broadcasting a Facebook Live event from the scene of a mass overdose in Chico, California, on Jan. 12, 2019.
  • A man in Portland, Oregon, was indicted on charges that he stalked and harassed Therese Bottomly, editor of The Oregonian/OregonLive, on Jan. 29, 2019. The man repeatedly states that Bottomly published false information.
  • In October 2018, pipe bombs were sent to Democratic politicians and to the offices of CNN.

As a result of these and other incidents as well as the president's rhetoric, Reporters Without Borders dropped the U.S.' ranking in its annual World Press Freedom Index from 43 to 45 out of 180 countries. The U.S.' ranking first fell in 2017, after President Trump labeled the press an "enemy of the people" — a phrase that was also used by Josef Stalin. In its report, Reporters Without Borders noted

“The violent anti-press rhetoric from the White House has been coupled with an increase in the number of press freedom violations at the local level as journalists run the risk of arrest for covering protests or simply attempting to ask public officials questions. Reporters have even been subject to physical assault while on the job."

Media:

Summary by Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: microgen / iStock)

AKA

Journalist Protection Act

Official Title

To amend title 18, United States Code, to provide a penalty for assault against journalists, and for other purposes.

    Yes, they should be protected. They put their lives at risk, more so now because of a sick, deranged President.
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    No, the citizen should be treated under currently imposed assault laws. Rather, the reporter should be prosecuted for harassment under current civil laws.
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