The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication joins with the larger journalism community in condemning a rising number of arrests and detentions of reporters while they attempt to cover news events.
This week, Cronkite graduates Ayano Nagaishi and Alison Cutler were briefly taken into custody while covering a protest for the Staunton, N.C., News Leader, a member of the USA TODAY Network.
The protest was in response to the death of Andrew Brown Jr., an unarmed Black man who was shot and killed on April 21 by deputies in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.
According to multiple news reports, the two reporters were standing in a crosswalk about a foot from the curb while filming police officers making an arrest. They were wearing media vests and repeatedly identified themselves as reporters.
“This appears to be another example of reporters being targeted for doing their jobs, and in this case, it involved two of our own, who graduated just months ago,” Interim Dean Kristin Gilger said in an email to Cronkite faculty and staff. “These kinds of incidents, which are happening with increasingly frequency, are a threat not just to our profession but to everyone who values the role that a free press plays in our democracy. This unlawful arrest is a reminder that what we do at Cronkite to prepare young people like Ayano and Alison is important work indeed.”
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker puts the number of journalists arrested or detained by law enforcement in 2020 at 139 — an unprecedented number. So far in 2021, 41 journalists have been arrested or detained.
The goal of such actions, “is to silence the dissemination of oppositional information and ideas, which, of course, is antithetical to any notion of a working democracy,” said Dennis Russell, associate professor at the Cronkite School who teaches media law, among other subjects.
The Cronkite School stands by Nagaishi, Cutler and all the other journalists who have faced harassment, detention and criminal charges for attempting to document protests and other news events and calls for a re-examination of policing policies and practices that impede or prevent journalists from fulfilling their critical role of informing the public and holding to account those in positions of authority.