News Guild’s Lunzer: Journalists must lobby for ‘right to report,’ freedom of the press

The nation’s journalists, accustomed to being observers rather than participants in protests, must get out and lobby for the “right to report” and the freedom of the press, News Guild President Bernie Lunzer says.

That means journalists must argue, as representatives of the public, for the right to report events and the freedom to do so, unhampered by employer financial interests, police intimidation and brutality or hateful politicians, he adds.

The right to report is important, journalists have long maintained, because without accurate reporting of events, particularly of government actions and who influences those decisions, U.S. citizens are in the dark about rulings that could change their lives. Meanwhile, special interests would hold even greater sway over those decisions.

That, and the concurrent threat to quality journalism, should convert journalists into participants, Lunzer says.

“Everyone has to play a role in the fight for quality journalism,” Lunzer elaborated at a meeting of several Guild sectors in Buffalo in late July.  “Nobody gives a check” to governments “but us.” TNG may raise the issue at the CWA convention in early August.

Meanwhile, TNG’s biggest campaign is the “Right to Report,” as journalists are under attack not only on financing needed to keep newspapers going, “but also from people who believe the truth gets in the way” of their goals, including political goals, Lunzer said.

In recent months, journalists have been forcibly prevented from doing their jobs, getting arrested and — in one case — assaulted and beaten by Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte, in Montana. He won the next day, despite misdemeanor charges against him.

Gianforte later apologized to the reporter for The Guardian whom he assaulted. The reporter was trying to ask if the candidate supported the House GOP’s health care bill, which would have thrown 22 million people off health insurance.

Lunzer says TNG has gone to bat for journalists in courts nationwide, filing friend-of-the-court briefs arguing for the right to report in 20 cases. That’s “been fruitful, but reaction won’t be enough” to succeed, he warned.

“We need to find allies, like the Committee to Protect Journalists, and convince them we all need to work together for this cause.” The newest facet of the right to report campaign is for laws “making it a crime to assault journalists when they’re doing their duties.”

All this is “about our identity, the future of the media in CWA and the future of the media in this country,” Lunzer declares. “Something has changed: It’s a civil war in this culture. We’re

going to, as a Guild and a (CWA) sector, stand for truth-telling. But we need locals to reach out, because we have the ability to build that excitement” for that cause. “We think we can build an identity on it as a union that matters.”

Martha Waggoner, an Associated Press writer in North Carolina and the News Guild’s International Chair, picked up on the theme, and said current GOP President Donald Trump and former Democratic President Barack Obama were partially to blame for the national hostility to the right to report.

“It’s not just Trump, but goes back to Obama going after more whistleblowers than the three previous presidents combined. Trump can thank Obama for showing him how to do it” in terms of quashing the media, Waggonner said.

Delegates to the conference discussed how to gain traction on the right to report. John Hill of the Providence local and the Providence Journal-Bulletin suggested TNG seek out states with “shield laws” that give journalists some legal protection when doing their jobs.

Over the last several years, some congressional Democrats introduced national “shield laws.” Those have foundered on Capitol Hill, partially because of the struggle over defining who the laws would cover: Straight mainstream media members, commentators, bloggers, or others. The state laws define who can be protected in those jurisdictions, Hill notes.

Even if lawmakers defeat right to report legislation and bans on assaulting journalists, just their consideration will “get people talking and we’ll be seen as somebody who cares about the profession and can get help for reporters. That helps organizing,” Hill said.

Source: PAI