Update (Sept. 17, 2020): In response to the media coalition, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in a Sept. 16 letter to Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce Brown that KPCC reporter Josie Huang “became part of the problem by inserting herself too close to the situation” as she reported on the arrest of protesters. He said the sheriff’s department is opening an internal investigation into Huang’s arrest.
Today the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and a coalition of 64 media organizations called on the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to drop all charges against Josie Huang, a journalist for the National Public Radio member station KPCC, who was violently arrested while she was reporting on a Sept. 12 protest. The media coalition also urged the department to take immediate steps to prevent such an arrest of a member of the news media from occurring again.
In a letter sent to Sheriff Alex Villanueva on Sept. 16 condemning the actions of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies, Reporters Committee attorneys note that Huang was arrested and cited for obstruction despite wearing a visible press lanyard and badge, as well as verbally identifying herself as a journalist who works for KPCC multiple times.
“The right to record police activity in public is clearly established, and an officer who violates that First Amendment freedom — especially through the use of force — enjoys no legal immunity,” the letter states.
“Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies should never have arrested and charged Josie Huang, who was reporting on protests that are of immense public interest and concern,” said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “The charge against her must be dropped, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department owes both the press and the public an explanation as to why she was violently arrested, especially in light of multiple video recordings showing her clearly, loudly and repeatedly identifying herself as a journalist. We will continue to press for officials in California to take the necessary steps to protect journalists working to inform the public about ongoing demonstrations, and law enforcement’s response to them.”
The Reporters Committee has urged Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign SB 629, a bill that would strengthen protections for the press to gather and disseminate newsworthy information. In addition, this letter follows one that an earlier Reporters Committee coalition sent to California officials in July, urging mayors and police chiefs across the state to implement immediate, concrete steps to prevent law enforcement from continuing to arrest, detain, threaten and assault journalists covering protests. In many of the cases of arrests and assaults of journalists that led to the July letter, there were strong indications that officers knew the individual was a member of the press.
Journalists covering protests who have questions or are in need of legal assistance can contact the Reporters Committee’s hotline at 800-336-4243 or via our online form. Journalists can also consult the Reporters Committee’s guide to covering protests and tip sheet for more information on their rights and how to avoid arrests while reporting on these events.
The Reporters Committee is also a partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, which is documenting assaults, arrests, equipment searches and seizures, and other incidents targeting journalists reporting on demonstrations. If you are a journalist or know of one who has experienced such an incident in the course of covering a protest, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.