This statement was originally published on cpj.org on 4 October 2021.
Journalists covering demonstrations against COVID-19 countermeasures have been called “terrorists,” “pedophiles,” “murderers,” and “scumbags.” Protesters have harassed and assaulted members of the press, and told them that “the nooses are ready.”Threats like these have become increasingly familiar for reporters in Europe and the United States, where the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a CPJ partner, has recorded threats and assaults against reporters in cities including Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon.
Journalists in Europe told CPJ that some protesters target members of the press, who they see as representing the same forces they are rallying against. While most of the reporters vowed to continue their coverage of demonstrations against lockdowns, masks, and COVID vaccines, some also voiced concern that reporters – especially those without institutional support, like freelancers – may not be able to continue much longer.
A new quality of anger
For Antonella Alba, a reporter with Italian public broadcaster Rai News 24, an August encounter with a violent group of protesters in Rome was a watershed moment.
“In my 20 years of reporting, I have covered student movements and workers’ protests but never have I been confronted with such an immediate violence to the very simple questions I asked about who [demonstrators] are and why they are protesting,” she told CPJ via phone.
When Alba asked a group of people why they had gathered to protest the government’s vaccine mandate, they responded by calling her a “terrorist journalist,” a term often used by extreme-right groups, and a woman shoved her while attempting to grab her cellphone, bruising her arm, as seen in a video Alba posted to Twitter. (Alba said that police have identified the alleged attacker and a criminal investigation is underway.)
Protesters believe that journalists – especially those working for public broadcasters – represent “the government’s propaganda” on anti-COVID-19 measures, Alba said, adding that she thought that was why they vented their anger about public health measures at members of the press.
Similarly, in August 2020, Anne Höhn, a reporter for German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle, found herself amid a hostile crowd at an anti-lockdown protest in Berlin.
“People just suddenly became very physical, they were trying to touch me, push me, it was scary,” she told CPJ in a video call. “It was a new quality of anger: I was targeted not because I did something, but simply because I was a journalist.”
Höhn told CPJ that the protesters resented the media’s perceived role as gatekeepers allegedly controlling information, and also did not want to be the subject of critical coverage. She said some of the protesters took out their phones and filmed her as she was filming them.
“It was to show that if you cover us, we will cover the way you cover us,” she said.
Demonstrators have even broken into news organizations, as happened in Slovenia in September 2021.
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Source: MEDIA FEED