Media groups to Court of Appeals: ‘Journalists should be able to document tumultuous, unpredictable events without anxiety’

Tonda Rush

Dec 1, 2020

FALLS CHURCH, Virginia — The National Newspaper Association joined other press organizations in November asking the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to rule the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s dispersal order invalid as it applies to journalists covering street activism and demonstrations.

The controversy stems from coverage of civic unrest in Portland, Oregon, when the federal Marshals Service claimed the right to apply the same sanctions to journalists that it used against rioters and demonstrators. The government has insisted that its officers have the authority to order journalists to leave a scene and may arrest them and subject them to tear gas or other crowd-control weapons if they do not obey. A federal judge earlier this year enjoined DHS from enforcing its policy against journalists.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has entered the fray on behalf of journalists in an amicus brief in an appeal by the government against a case filed by Index Newspapers, Portland. The media groups say that the crowd control orders must focus narrowly on the sources of disruption and not apply across the board to all journalists if they are not creating public safety threats.

“Journalists should be able to document tumultuous, unpredictable events without anxiety that others’ unlawful conduct will be imputed to them. ... Were it otherwise, journalists could not safely report on civic unrest for fear that they would be subject to the use of force or arrested for being in the place they need to be to do their job,” the press organizations argue.