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Civil unrest linked to attacks against journalists in 2020

(Stock image courtesy Pexels)

Journalists in the United States faced a significant uptick in harassment and attacks while performing their job duties last year, an increase that was largely linked to protests and civil unrest throughout the country.

The revelation was made in a new report issued by the Radio and Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), a special interest group that lobbies on behalf of radio, television and digital media news outlets.

According to the group, 20 percent of news directors who hold membership with the RTDNA reported at least one attack against a newsroom employee during 2020, with more than half of those attacks occurring while the staffer was covering a protest or other event linked to civil unrest.

As a result of the attacks, 86 percent of news directors surveyed issues new policies or changes to existing ones regarding employee safety. Some purchased bullet-proof vests and gas masks, while others hired security teams to protect workers who were covering certain events.

The RTDNA logged attacks against journalists in nearly every major media market, including the biggest in California — Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, San Francisco and Fresno, each of which logged at least one attack against a newsroom employee last year.

“Among other terrible things, 2020 showed us that far too often journalists were subjected to harassment, threats and assaults merely for doing their constitutionally protected duty,” Daniel Shelley, the director of the RTDNA, said in a statement.

Among member news outlets, the survey found radio reporters were the least likely to be attacked while performing their job functions, while television news crews were more likely to face harassment, abuse and physical harm.

The RTDNA is not the only group to report a rise in attacks against journalists: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) have released similar reports over the last year documenting domestic and global assaults against journalist, including some who were targeted by government actors.

But the RTDNA painted its report in a dramatic fashion as proof that “we are under attack,” and urged supporters of the commercial media industry to contact Congress with a demand that they act to protect front-line journalists.

“The proof is in the numbers,” the organization punctuated in a statement. “It is time for Congress to act.”

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).