United States: Judge exempts journalists from protest dispersal orders in Portland

A judge in the US has ruled that journalists and legal observers are not subject to federal police officers' dispersal orders at protests taking place in the city of Portland. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the National Writers Union (NWU) in welcoming a decision that guarantees media rights to report on the Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

Federal police officers at a demonstration in Portland. Credits: ALISHA JUCEVIC / AFP

The preliminary injunction protects journalists and legal observers from assaults, threats of violence, or arrest for not dispersing during the protests.

It also prohibits federal officers from seizing "any photographic equipment, audio- or video recording equipment, or press passes" from reporters. A temporary restraining order concerning the exemption had been due to expire on August 20, the same day as the new ruling.

District Judge Micheal H. Simon argued that journalists and legal observers must be able to document the police's handling of the Black Lives Matter protests and oversee if the dispersal of protestors complies with the law.

A U.S. Department of Justice lawyer had previously argued that the press is not exempt from dispersal orders because it holds no exclusive rights.

The preliminary injunction applies after police declare an unlawful assembly or riot and order the public to clear the streets. The Black Lives Matter protests in Portland had erupted after George Floyd was killed by a police officer kneeling on his neck for more than eight minutes. The demonstrations have repeatedly led to violence, arson, and clashes between protestors and police.

Police brutality against media workers

Several journalists have been victims of police brutality during the protests. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) submitted 34 separate statements from journalists, photojournalists, and legal observers who suffered shots to the back, neck, and legs from impact munitions fired by federal officers since early July. On behalf of journalists and legal observers, the ACLU filed a lawsuit that led to the first temporary restraining order.

The NWU welcomed the restraining order: "The press is under growing attack in the U.S., politically and financially. This ruling may be a temporary but welcome legal victory. "

IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger said: "Journalists play an essential watchdog role when covering protests. We welcome the ruling that media workers will be legally protected to report about the BLM protests in Portland and call for this protection to be extended to the whole country".

Journalists who report from the protests or other issues worldwide can profit from IFJ and battleface all-inclusive travel insurance for journalists. It covers health care in case of injuries, accidents, evacuation, and damage to equipment.

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

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