June 12, 2017

US - RSF concerned about death threats against local newspaper in California

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has joined in a letter to the police chief of Willows, California regarding death threats against a local newspaper. The letter urges authorities to look further into the threats given the increasing hostility towards the press in recent months.

The letter, addressed to Willows City Police Chief Jason Dahl, and signed by RSF, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Association of Alternative Newsmedia, California Newspaper Publishers Association, Californians Aware, Committee to Protect Journalists, First Amendment Coalition, Online News Association, Radio Television Digital News Association, and the Society of Professional Journalists calls on “local law enforcement to give all threats of violence against reporters the careful attention they deserve to ensure that the press can continue its crucial work and that the public’s interest in truthful reporting on current events can be defended.”

RSF first learned of threats against the twice weekly newspaper The Sacramento Valley Mirror last April, after the paper’s editor and publisher Tim Crews reached out by email.

According to Crews and his attorney, he and reporter Larry Judkins began receiving threatening phone calls and complaints after they covered a local death in late March. In addition to the calls, Crews also sent RSF a photograph of a noose that had been left in front of the door to the paper’s offices in downtown Willows, California on April 21. “This threat, in broad daylight, means to us that the perpetrators, who are trying to warn us off a series we are working on, are operating with impunity,” Crews told RSF.

Since learning of the threat against the Valley Mirror, RSF has been closely monitoring the case, says Margaux Ewen, Advocacy and Communications Director for RSF’s North America Bureau. “Due to the lack of any serious development in the investigation to date and events of the last month where journalists in the United States have been arrested, manhandled and even physically assaulted for attempting to ask questions, it’s important that we implore the local authorities to take threats of violence against the press very seriously.

Hostility against the press in the US is on the rise, and a significant increase in violent rhetoric and altercations has occurred within the past month. On May 18, a journalist for CQ Roll Call was manhandled by a security guard and forced to leave the Federal Communications Commission headquarters during a public hearing on net neutrality. The FCC and the security guard in question have since released apologies. On May 24, a reporter for The Guardian was physically assaulted by the Republican candidate for Montana’s congressional seat, Greg Gianforte. He won his election the next day and has since apologized and settled a civil suit with the reporter, but is still facing misdemeanor assault charges. On May 26, Texas Governor Greg Abbott joked about shooting journalists after signing a bill reducing the cost to obtain a handgun license.

The US ranks 43rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index after falling two places in 2016.

Image credit: Larry Judkins / Sacramento Valley Mirror