✅ A free press at protests

A night protest scene of chaos. CalMatters photo by Anne Wernikoff.
Demonstrators and members of the media disperse as police deploy tear gas during a May 3, 2020 protest in Oakland over the killing of George Floyd, Photo for CalMatters by Anne Wernikoff.

By Robert Lewis

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

SB 98 would prevent police from blocking journalists covering protests and demonstrations. The bill, by Healdsburg Democratic Sen. Mike McGuire, would ensure reporters can be in protest areas without being arrested and prohibits police from “intentionally assaulting, interfering with, or obstructing” their newsgathering.

WHO SUPPORTS IT

The California News Publishers Association, American Civil Liberties Union and First Amendment Coalition say the legislation is necessary after recent high-profile incidents in which reporters were arrested and, in some cases, assaulted with less-lethal munitions while covering demonstrations.

WHO’S OPPOSED

The California Police Chiefs Association wants to be able to control where the media goes during events and worries that costly litigation may result if their officers violate the proposed statutes.

WHY IT MATTERS

Police have cracked down — sometimes violently — on protests and demonstrations in recent years, including instances in which journalists covering events were arrested and injured. Such tactics limit the ability of news organizations to bear witness, an important function in a democracy, and to provide oversight of officers whose use of force and crowd-control tactics have led to civilian injuries and lawsuits.

GOVERNOR’S CALL:

Newsom signed the bill on Oct. 9.