A Florida state senator on Tuesday filed a bill seeking to include members of the press as a protected group in existing hate crime laws in the state in response to recent threats and attacks against journalists.
State Sen. Janet Cruz (D) announced the proposed measure in a press release, writing that the legislation will allow for heightened penalties for threats and violence against members of the media, treating them as a protected class alongside race, religion and sexual orientation.
“It is a dark reality that members of the press in our country are facing a heightened risk of violent attacks as a result of irresponsible leadership throughout our country,” the press release stated.
Cruz said in a statement along with the release, “A free press, provided to us in the First Amendment, is vital for a strong democracy and society.”
“What sort of indictment is it on us if we fail to protect those that pursue no other goal but the interest of the public good?” the senator added.
Cruz noted in the release that during the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, journalists and other members of the press were “surrounded, intimidated, their equipment destroyed, and their lives threatened,” noting specifically the words, “Murder the Media,” that were scratched into one of the Capitol doors during the mob attack.
Cruz explained that the legislation will protect all members of the media, including “photojournalists and those operating equipment to facilitate the delivery of news or media.”
“This is about staying true to our nation’s most sacred values. Preserving the relationship of mutual trust with an essential institution, like a free press, is instrumental to the success of our democracy,” added Cruz, who also tweeted Tuesday that everyone should “be filled with a deep sense of sadness that this legislation is even necessary.”
We should all be filled with a deep sense of sadness that this legislation is even necessary, but it is imperative that we protect members of the press https://t.co/bck5Gg9ZGQ
— Janet Cruz (@SenJanetCruz) February 23, 2021
Despite praise from some on social media, others, including some Florida journalists, criticized the move, arguing that a person’s chosen profession should not be viewed by law in the same way as categories like race, gender or sexual orientation.
We don’t need this. If you want to help journalists, expand public records laws. https://t.co/8CRDMIXRti
— Desiree Stennett (@Desi_Stennett) February 23, 2021
Thanks but no thanks.
It’s a choice to be a journalist. You can’t choose your gender, race or sexual orientation. https://t.co/z3lv5AteXf
— David Harris (@DavidHarrisOS) February 23, 2021
Several firsthand accounts from the Capitol riots showed how journalists were among those targeted in the attacks. In one incident captured on video, Associated Press photographer John Minchillo was shoved, dragged and yelled at by some in the mob.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker recorded 384 assaults on journalists in 2020, with 15 already assaulted in 2021.
Arrests of journalists in the U.S. were up 1,200 percent in 2020, with more reporters getting arrested in that year than during all of 2017-2019, according to an analysis from the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
The increased threats and attacks against journalists come after former in the lead up to and during his administration repeatedly attacked the press, claiming news organizations reported “fake news” and that they were the “enemy of the people.”
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