During the protests of the past week over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the importance of visual journalism could not be more evident. As photography and videography continue to shine a light on matters of public concern, the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) urges law enforcement and citizens to understand and respect our obligation and right to inform the public and for officials to hold law enforcement accountable when they arrest journalists or target them with force.
In the space of 48 hours, there were several reports of police shooting photojournalists with projectiles, some at close range — resulting in at least one photographer losing an eye. There were over 20 reports of journalists being arrested and charged with minor offenses in thinly veiled attempts to stop them from covering the protests or police activities. Other news crews were intentionally targeted and shot at for no apparent reason other than they were clearly journalists. This is against the backdrop of the many incidents where journalists were attacked and beaten by protestors, who also stole or damaged their equipment and destroyed their vehicles.
In the cases involving law enforcement, there have been official apologies, but such condemnations are not enough, especially when the abuse of force is repeated by officers in the same departments the very next day.
NPPA has long been at the forefront of the rights of citizens and journalists to document police performing their official duties in a public place. But the increasing mistreatment by police of the media (or anyone with a camera) and their misguided belief that photography and recording in public places may be halted by shouted orders, physical force or intimidation must stop. Law enforcement agencies must institute clear and unambiguous guidelines regarding the constitutional rights of citizens and journalists. But those policies will only be worthless pieces of paper without proper training and commensurate disciplinary action against officers who violate the law or departmental policies.
If police departments intend in any meaningful way to live up to their mission, the officers involved in these and other criminal acts must be held accountable for their actions. The constitutional freedom to record the activities of police officers is meaningless otherwise.
To achieve these goals, the NPPA pledges to continue its strong and consistent advocacy on behalf of the rights of journalists and citizens to record police activities. In a time of viral fears and racial strife it is incumbent that all organizations dedicated to defending our constitutional protections redouble their efforts to counter all such constitutional abridgments through intervention, education and training.
About the NPPA: Since its founding in 1946, the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) has been the Voice of Visual Journalists. NPPA is a 501(c)(6) non-profit professional organization dedicated to the advancement of visual journalism, its creation, editing and distribution in all news media. NPPA encourages visual journalists to reflect the highest standards of quality and ethics in their professional performance, in their business practices and in their comportment. NPPA vigorously advocates for and protects the Constitutional rights of journalists as well as freedom of the press and speech in all its forms, especially as it relates to visual journalism. Its members include still and television photographers, editors, students, and representatives of businesses serving the visual journalism community.
Particularly during the pandemic, we can't continue this work without support. Please consider donating to the NPPA via the NPPF, joining or renewing to the NPPA. Thank you.
Click to Donate to NPPF, our sister organization, which is a 501(C)3 nonprofit.
Click to Join or Renew.