Broadcast journalists play an essential role in documenting the pivotal moments that shape our nation and our world. Reporting from the front lines, they deliver what former Washington Post Publisher Phil Graham called “the first rough draft of history.”
In 2020, radio and television broadcasters were on the front lines again, covering the historical, remarkable events of the year against the backdrop of a once-in-a-generation pandemic. Alarmingly, though, these journalists – who dedicated themselves to bringing the truth of Americans during dangerous times – were subject to an unprecedented level of harassment, intimidation and violence in the course of their duties.
A new survey by the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) found that one in five television news directors reported their journalists were attacked while covering the news, including almost four in 10 news directors in the largest markets. More than 13% of radio newsroom leaders in the largest markets also reported attacks on employees of their stations. A vast majority of news directors reported that they had changed procedures to protect their staff, including the purchase of bulletproof vests and gas masks and providing security teams for in-field reporters.
NAB has created a toolkit to help stations, newsroom leaders and journalists stay safe in the face of escalating attacks on the free press. This toolkit provides best practices and trainings on covering civil unrest, guides on journalists’ rights while reporting in the field and other important information on navigating dangerous situations.
As we mark World Press Freedom Day today, however, it is not enough to condemn these unacceptable attacks on journalists. We as Americans must join in celebration of the First Amendment and respect its protection of a free press’ right to report the news, without fear or favor.
From our country’s beginning, the right of the press to challenge the government, root out corruption and speak freely without fear of recrimination has been central to our democracy. Through accurate newsgathering and reporting, journalists risk their lives to keep the public informed and shine light on the many challenges our nation faces today.
Now more than ever, America needs a free press to educate, enlighten and empower. Journalists must be treated with dignity, and be allowed to legally and safely do the jobs we need them to do.