Denver reporters forced to wear protective gear and hire security guards as media attacks escalate nationwide

When protests turned violent in Denver in June, ABC National News hired local freelance video reporter Carl Filoreto to cover the protests – and paid armed security guards to accompany him as cops fired tear gas and guns. projectiles at people angry at the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police.

“I never felt threatened in Denver, but knowing that you have that extra pair of eyes on you that’s there to protect you, it’s very reassuring when you cover up that sort of thing,” Filoreto said. “You never know what spark will spark a major showdown.”

The fatal shooting of a protester by a security guard working for 9News following protests in Denver on October 10 illustrates how quickly something can go wrong when large crowds gather.

The dueling political protests that day, while noisy, had not been violent and ended when a small group began arguing outside the Denver Art Museum as they walked to their cars. It is not known what prompted the victim, Lee Keltner, and security guard, Matthew Dolloff, to engage with each other, but the encounter proved fatal within seconds.

Until that time, few people in Denver – including other journalists – knew that some news outlets hired private security services to escort their staff. Media experts say this is a practice increasingly used by local media, especially TV stations, since the Ferguson police protests in 2015 and President Donald’s 2016 campaign. Trump.

“The environment for journalists and media teams has become more dangerous in recent years,” said Robert Mahoney, deputy executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “You are there to cover stories against the backdrop of people who see the media as ‘the enemy of the people’. There is background music of hostility against the media before you even go out on the streets.

In Denver, 9News and Denver7 admitted in statements after the shooting that they were hiring security guards and demanding that they be unarmed. Fox31 vice president and general manager Byron Grandy and CBS Denver News director Tim Wieland declined to know if their stations provided bodyguards for reporters while covering local news.

Colorado Public Radio and its online news site, Denverite, did not, said Kevin Dale, editor of CPR. The Denver Post has not hired private security for its reporters.

Broadcast journalists with their large and expensive cameras are more often than not at risk and more likely to hire security guards, several media experts said.

“Mad people follow television cameras like moths follow flames,” said Chris Roberts, associate professor in the Department of Journalism and Creative Media at the University of Alabama and a member of the Society of Ethics Committee. Professional Journalists. “It’s reasonable to have some sort of security.”

Journalists have long been threatened because of their work, which can have a huge impact on people’s lives. In 1903, for example, NG Gonzales, co-founder of The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, was assassinated by the lieutenant governor after reporting on their drinking and gambling habits.

Over the past decade, the number of reported attacks on journalists on American soil has increased and, since October 13, the US Press Freedom Tracking reported an unprecedented 812 incidents in 77 US cities, including 10 in Denver and two in Colorado Springs, in 2020. Many of these attacks have come from law enforcement as well as protesters.

Three days after the Denver shooting, a journalist and WSMV videographer in Nashville, Tennessee, was attacked by a man while he was reporting in front of a primary school. They were not injured. But in 2015, reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward from WBDJ in Roanoke, Virginia, were killed on air by an angry former colleague who had been fired by the station. In 2013, Oakland photographers were stolen photo equipment while covering crime scenes.

Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, said he first saw journalists use home security in 2012 at a NATO meeting in Chicago.

“They looked a bit like cops, but you could tell they weren’t,” Osterreicher said. “I spoke with them and they told me they were armed with security and with a television crew.”

Until then, Osterreicher said, he had only heard of American journalists hiring bodyguards when they were reporting overseas about wars or other hostile environments.

“We hadn’t thought of it that way,” he said. “It wasn’t that common.

Filoreto worked with personal security in Qatar while on assignment with NBC during the invasion of Iraq. But he never worked with security in the United States until Trump’s campaign rallies in 2016, where the public was often hostile to the media. Since that election, national networks have continued to provide media security during Trump’s events, he said.

“When you’re there and he incites the crowd and points the media pen and yells at you, it’s pretty intimidating,” he said. “You don’t know what kind of loose cannon is in the crowd.”

Over the summer in Denver, Filoreto said it was reassuring to have someone watching his back as his eye was glued to a viewfinder, creating a limited field of vision. This allowed him to get closer to the action and focus on his work.

“You would never know they were with us,” he said. “You would never know they were armed.”

News organizations must carry out risk assessments and decide what steps to take to protect journalists, Mahoney said. And in addition to providing protective gear, journalists need to be trained in tactics such as where to stand and how to get out when things get dangerous, he said.

“If you take part in a street protest in the United States, you will see everything from experienced, well-equipped, well-trained journalists to a freelance reporter with an iPhone,” he said.

Major networks such as CNN and major newspapers such as the New York Times employ internal security, Mahoney said. But small news agencies do not have these resources, so they turn to external contractors. Those who hire the contractors should discuss the rules of engagement and goals with the security companies, Mahoney said.

In the Denver area, reporters wore reflective vests, goggles and helmets during protests where police fired tear gas and other projectiles, and protesters fired guns and traded punches. After the October 10 shooting, the CPR ordered bulletproof vests, Dale said. The Denver Post had previously placed an order in anticipation of an increase in violence.

Journalists – notoriously independent-minded – lack consensus on best security practices.

At the CPR, reflective vests are handed out to reporters and photographers covering the protests, but even inside the newsroom there are different philosophies about wearing them, Dale said.

“A photographer likes to wear the vest to identify himself as a photographer. The other doesn’t, ”he said. “We respect both.”

The decision to hire personal security also raises ethical questions. Does the media disclose that they have security? Do they need security to carry ID? Opinions are mixed. Some say security identification could prevent journalists from being hit by pepper spray or projectiles fired by police, but it might not work the other way around in the face of the general public.

Roberts, who sits on the Journalism Ethics Committee, said identifying security accompanying reporters while covering a police protest could confuse the general public, who might view security officers as forces of the ‘order. And part of the strategy behind security sometimes means it’s invisible, he said.

CPR has spoken to its security staff, including hiring security, but is not ready to take this step due to the risks that come with it, Dale said. His instinct is that if his staff think a situation is dangerous enough to require security, then they don’t need to go at all.

“What I want journalists to do is get out and be safe,” he said. “My concern about private security is that something could escalate. I’m not saying we never would.

After the fatal shooting, 9News said it contracted with Pinkerton for an unarmed guard. Pinkerton later said he contracted with another company to hire Dolloff. But Dolloff was not licensed to work as an armed security guard in Denver and now 9News is dealing with the fallout, including the possibility of paying city fines for hiring an unlicensed guard. It is also likely that the family of Lee Keltner, who died in the shooting, will sue for wrongful death, naming the guard, reporters, the TV station and its parent company, Tegna.

Ultimately, news outlets have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their reporters, said Mahoney, Roberts and Osterreicher. The last thing that has to happen is for journalists and their safety to become a political argument, Mahoney said.

“Things are not improving for journalists,” he said. “In fact, they can get worse.”

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