September 16, 2019

US – #WeeklyAddress: September 9 – 15: North Carolina state senator assaults journalist, throws phone

Below are the most notable incidents regarding threats to press freedom in the US during the week of September 9 – 15:

North Carolina state senator assaults journalist, throws phone

State Sen. Paul Lowe of North Carolina apologized on September 11 after an altercation with a reporter in the state Legislative Building in Raleigh, according to the Greensboro News & Record. The journalist, Joe Killian, was covering the aftermath of the governor’s state budget veto for N.C. Policy Watch, an online news and commentary outlet, when he heard yelling behind a closed door. Lowe emerged from the room and asked Killian, who had begun filming, what he was doing. After Killian told him he is a journalist, Lowe engaged in a brief struggle with Killian, snatched Killian’s phone, and threw it across the room. Lowe asserted he did not break the law in the confrontation, though the state General Assembly Police Department has not determined whether charges will be filed. This incident echoes a similar confrontation in February 2019, when Capitol Police in Washington, DC, reportedly shoved journalists and blocked them from asking questions while escorting members of Congress. 


Denver police will strengthen First Amendment training as part of settlement for unlawful arrest of journalist

As part of a $50,000 settlement between the Denver Police Department and Colorado Independent editor Susan Greene, the police force has agreed to strengthen First Amendment training for officers through at least 2024, plus update policies on search and seizure of recording devices, The Colorado Independent reported September 10. Greene, an investigative journalist who covers police use of excessive force, had her First Amendment rights violated last year when she was handcuffed and detained for taking photos and recording an interaction between police and a man they had arrested. Officers James Brooks and Adam Paulsen ordered her to stop recording, and when she refused, they took her phone, handcuffed her, and forced her into the police car, telling her to “act like a lady.” She was released after 12 minutes and her phone was returned. 

As a part of the training required in the settlement, the Denver Police Department will hire the general counsel of the National Press Photographers Association to train officers on First Amendment photography rights. The session will be recorded and shown annually for officers.


Six months have passed since the last daily White House press briefing

September 11 marked six months since the last traditional White House press briefing. Since entering her role as White House press secretary in June, Stephanie Grisham has not once taken the podium in the James Brady Press Briefing Room to speak with the media. Former Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was the last to do so on March 11. Grisham has expressed a lack of concern for this matter, telling ABC News that “President Trump communicates directly with the American people more than any president in history.” But critics have said the president’s impromptu “chopper talks” have made it more difficult to hold the president accountable and made them look unprofessional. RSF believes the absence of traditional press briefings is upending our country’s democratic norms.


California gig economy bill could unintentionally threaten journalism industry

A bill California lawmakers passed on September 10 that would classify many contract workers as employees could have unintended consequences for freelance journalists and news outlets. While the law would help prevent exploitation of workers like Uber and Lyft drivers, some California newspaper editors are concerned this law would prevent them from keeping newspaper deliverers who are employed on contracts. For newspapers in small rural towns, this could severely limit their ability to circulate papers and inform readers. Troy Niday, the chief operations officer of The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, told The New York Times this law could accelerate the end of print newspaper delivery by five to seven years. 



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The United States ranks 48th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index


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