By Houston Chronicle
Television journalist Chris Hayes got handcuffed and shackled to a bench after objecting to being barred from a public meeting on June 30, 2016. He’d gone to follow-up on his investigation of a tiny town’s uninsured and unregistered police cars.
On Sept. 7, 2017, a crowd of police officers knocked down Mike Faulk, a newspaper reporter covering a protest, and pinned him to the ground. One peppered sprayed him in the face. Then Faulk got hauled off to jail.
Hayes and Faulk were eventually released. But journalist Manuel Duran, a Salvadoran national, remains in custody — he too was arrested while covering a protest and carrying press credentials on April 3.
World Press Freedom Day, May 3, filled social media with images of journalists jailed or killed in countries ruled by dictators and wracked by violence. But the arrests described above occurred in America. They involved journalists such as Hayes of Fox 2 in St. Louis and Faulk of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, as well as Duran, an independent journalist who remains in U.S. immigration custody though charges filed by Memphis, Tennessee, police were dropped.
More troubling episodes appear in a new report called “Press Freedom Under Threat — Mission to the United States.”
Because of an increase in anecdotal reports of attacks against U.S. journalists, international human rights experts recently completed that unusual mission in America. One stop was Houston. Reporters here told of receiving threats and hate mail after writing about hot button issues like immigration reform. Texas journalists and others who cover and cross the U.S.-Mexico border shared accounts of unreasonable searches and seizures of equipment, including video, notes, cameras and cellphones.
The report highlights troubling trends: reporters subject to manhandling and arrests while conducting interviews or covering protests; unreasonable border searches; aggressive use of subpoenas — beginning under the Obama administration — to compel journalists to identify sources, and a rise in inflammatory political rhetoric that has declared the press an enemy.
Of course, journalists elsewhere in the world still face greater danger. But America’s leadership and its constitutional commitment to press freedom has slipped. We can all help reverse this by supporting nonprofits like the Committee to Protect Journalists, which monitor press freedom. It also helps to subscribe to outlets that support watchdog reporting. And those who serve in the military, government and police can assist by remembering that journalists serve as the public’s eyes and ears — and should not be subject to beatings, unreasonable searches or arrests for doing their jobs.