US: Ahead of Inauguration Day, RSF gravely concerned for media safety

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is gravely concerned for the safety of journalists in the U.S. ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on January 20 in Washington D.C. Amid growing reports that further violence and armed protests could take place in the U.S. capital and across the country in the coming week, RSF is urging authorities to take every action to ensure the safety of members of the media covering such events.

Five people were killed and many more injured when thousands of pro-Trump protesters stormed the seat of the U.S. government’s legislative branch last week in an unsuccessful attempt to halt the certification of Biden's recent Electoral College victory. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has warned of the threat of future “armed protests” in all 50 states. 

During the January 6 insurrection, rioters damaged tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment owned by The Associated Press, including microphone and camera cables, which they allegedly fashioned into a noose, while shouting, “We are the news now!” Pro-Trump protesters also smashed cameras while yelling “CNN sucks,” and scrawled the words, “Murder The Media” on doors inside the Capitol Building itself. 

The harrowing accounts from journalists who were present at last week’s uprising at the U.S. Congress were chilling,” said RSF USA’s newly appointed Executive Director, Anna K. Nelson. “We condemn the violence in the strongest possible terms and urge the authorities to hold alleged aggressors accountable. We call on everyone to respect press freedom and to ensure journalists are allowed to safely carry out their vital work.”

RSF welcomes the statement made by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C. on Tuesday that federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials plan to “investigate, prosecute, and hold responsible” anyone who was engaged in violence or intimidation [against members of the press], including “assaults, threats, and property damage’.”

Twitter and Facebook took the extraordinary measure of banning President Trump from their platforms, citing rules prohibiting content that incites violence.

Press freedom conditions declined dramatically during the Trump administration. According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, at least 856 aggressions were committed against journalists covering protests in 2020 alone. The majority of these incidents were deliberate and unprovoked physical attacks on clearly identified journalists, taking place during Black Lives Matter demonstrations in at least 33 states across the country. 

Last November, RSF issued a statement expressing serious concern over the continued hostility towards journalists. Today, we reiterate our call for public officials to not only ensure the safety of journalists covering protests, but to also investigate this larger pattern of First Amendment violations. 

Reporters are encouraged to consult these steps for safely covering protests. Members of the media who have been assaulted, attacked, or had their equipment stolen or destroyed during protests are encouraged to contact the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker online here to submit a report.

The U.S. is ranked 45th out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.

Published on
Updated on 15.01.2021