The protests that erupted in the US following the killing of George Floyd have spread throughout the country. In some instances rioters have attacked journalists, but the assaults by law enforcement against journalists have been unprecedented.
“We’ve never witnessed this before”, said UJF president Hanne Aho. “The Union of Journalists in Finland voices its support to both US media and international media working in the country.”
By 2 June, US press freedom organisations had recorded 125 incidents of violence directed at journalists. The majority of these were at the hands of the police. It is evident from what took place that the police have specifically targeted journalists regardless of their press credentials and equipment, such as cameras, being in clearly visible.
“The US is in a situation where you have the authorities deliberately blocking the free flow of information by acts of violence and at the same time trying to prevent the public from receiving information about what is happening”, said the UJF president.
President Donald Trump tweeted 31 May that the media, which he characterises as “lamestream”, is “doing everything in their power to foment hatred and anarchy”, and that journalists are “truly bad people with a sick agenda.”
In the days that followed we saw journalists being subject to rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray and under arrest. President Trump’s tweets have literally jeopardised the lives of journalists.
Hanne Aho said: “The US is a powerful democratic state. If its leaders and officials denigrate democracy by blocking reporting, it will reverberate around the world.”
Constraints on press freedoms threaten to become the new normal in Europe too.
Last year, the Council of Europe registered 142 serious violations of press freedom in its member states, including 32 incidents of physical violence, 17 new cases of arrest and imprisonment, and two cases where the murder of journalists went unpunished.
The Covid-19 pandemic this spring has provided a new cover for restricting journalistic work in a number of countries.
At the end of May, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterrez said: “When journalists are attacked, societies are attacked. No democracy can function without press freedom nor can any society be fair without journalists who investigate wrongdoing and speak truth to power.”
Further information: Hanne Aho, president, Union of Journalists in Finland: Tel. +358 50 525 4345