May 25, 2017

US - RSF strongly condemns physical assault on Guardian reporter

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is deeply alarmed by reports that journalist for The Guardian Ben Jacobs was physically assaulted by Greg Gianforte, Republican candidate for Montana's congressional seat last night after asking the candidate a question about health care reform.

On the eve of Montana's special election, Jacobs attempted to ask Republican candidate Gianforte a question about the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)'s most recent analysis of the Republican-led health care bill when Gianforte allegedly body-slamnmed the reporter, breaking his glasses and exclaiming "I'm sick and tired of this...get the hell out of here!," which can be heard in an audio recording of the incident.

A Fox News reporter who witnessed the incident with two of her colleagues said "at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff’s deputies.”

Montana's Gallatin County Sherrif's office filed misdemeanor assault charges against Gianforte late last night. Gianforte is next due to appear in court on or before June 7.

"RSF is appalled that a politician perpetrated such a violent assault on a journalist for merely asking a question, says Margaux Ewen, RSF North America's Advocacy and Communications Director. "The incident marks a new level of violence and is especially chilling as it occured the night before an important state election. The anti-press rhetoric from the highest levels of the US government has given ammunition to certain politicians to act increasingly violently towards reporters who ask questions they don't want to answer. We welcome the charges filed against Gianforte, but we urge all those in power to condemn these acts of aggression toward the press as they are completely unworthy of the First Amendment."

Just last week, a journalist was manhandled for asking a question during a press conference at the Federal Communications Commission, and the week before a journalist was arrested in West Virginia for attempting to ask US Health Secretary Tom Price a question about health care reform.

The United States ranks 43rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index after falling 2 places in 2016.