News publishers from around the world are urging US President Donald Trump to show support for a free press and condemn the attacks on journalists covering protests triggered by the death of Mr George Floyd in police custody.
In a joint letter on Friday, members of the World Association of News Publishers (Wan-Ifra) demanded thorough investigations into more than 400 attacks on media professionals related to the coverage of the protests against police brutality and in support of social justice following Mr Floyd’s death on May 25.
The attacks were reported to the US Press Freedom Tracker, a non-partisan online resource that documents press freedom violations in the United States.
“If justice is to be delivered, if the nation is to address the historic failures at the root of these latest protests and begin the long process of healing, then citizens, policymakers and law enforcement officials need reliable independent information to assist them in this process,” said the Wan-Ifra letter.
“Journalists need to operate freely and in safety, without fear of attack.”
The letter also called on Mr Trump to “carefully consider your power to influence action and opinion, both at home and abroad, and to find the appropriate language that will stem the violence and protect journalists from further attack”.
Mr Floyd, a black man, was killed in Minneapolis when a convenience store worker called the police and accused the 46-year-old of trying to use a fake US$20 note to buy cigarettes.
He died after white police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. His last words, “I can’t breathe”, quickly became the slogan of a string of protests against racism and police brutality that ignited in cities across the US.
Some of these protests turned violent as looters ravaged stores and law enforcers deployed tear gas on the crowds.
Hundreds of journalists in the thick of the protests reported being assailed by the police.
NBC News journalist Ed Ou, who has experience reporting civil unrest in the Middle East, Ukraine and Iraq, was covering demonstrations in Minneapolis on May 30 when he was tear gassed, pepper sprayed and beaten with a baton while standing out of the way of the police.
“We had our cameras out, press badges on and were clearly identifiable as media. I ended up with 4 stitches,” he tweeted on June 3.
Australia’s Channel 7 correspondent Amelia Brace and cameraman Tim Myers were struck by rubber bullets and a shield by the police during a live broadcast of a protest near the White House on June 1. The assault was captured on video.
The letter to Mr Trump – initiated by Wan-Ifra president Fernando De Yarza Lopez-Madrazo as well as World Editors Forum president and Singapore Press Holdings English/Malay/Tamil Media Group editor-in-chief Warren Fernandez – is co-signed by 20 national member associations and 45 individual publishers, chief executives, editors-in-chief and senior media executives worldwide.
Reminding Mr Trump of constitutional guarantees protecting the freedom of the press, the letter urges him to reaffirm the US’ historical commitment to a free press “clearly and unambiguously, so that it is heard across the country and may resonate around the world”.
“Attacks against journalists must stop. Attacks already perpetrated need to be investigated to the full extent of the law, and the press must be free to carry out its essential role safely and without fear of reprisal,” it said.