Study: News crews at more than 20 percent of TV stations were attacked last year

Study: News crews at more than 20 percent of TV stations were attacked last year
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More than 1 in 5 U.S. television newsrooms reported that their journalists were violently attacked last year and even more stations in larger markets reported similar incidents, according to a study conducted by the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) and the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.

Some 20.5 percent of TV newsroom leaders surveyed said their staff had been attacked last year, while 39 percent in top-25 markets reported similar incidents. 

“Among other terrible things, 2020 showed us that far too often journalists were subjected to harassment, threats and assaults merely for doing their constitutionally protected duty,” said RTDNA’s executive director, Dan Shelley.

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The Western U.S. was the most dangerous region for TV reporters, who were attacked regardless of whether they worked for a CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox affiliated station.

The RTDNA and Newhouse has surveyed newsrooms annually about the state of the industry since 1972. However, after several years of watching attacks on journalists increase, the group decided last year to also ask about the violence experienced by news crews.

The RTDNA study, conducted in the fourth quarter of 2020, polled newsroom leaders at 1,762 operating, non-satellite television stations and through a random sample of 3,379 radio stations.

Many of last year’s attacks, the study found, were related to protests or civil unrest.

“Almost half of the attacks were against crews covering what news directors described as riots, protests and civil unrest,” said the study. “Security was beefed up at stations and fences, locks and gates installed. One-person crews became two-person; two-person crews became three … with the third person frequently a station manager or, more commonly, a security guard.”

Incidents included TV crews being surrounded and threatened during civil unrest, being hit with pepper spray during protests, being shoved, spit on and hit with water bottles. 

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At least one anchor was hit by a rock while other protesters targeted news employees with lasers, tear gas and physical assault. Though some attacks at protests were made by police, most, the study said, involved protesters. 

In response to the attacks, the survey found, TV stations have hired professional security, reduced the number of reporters working by themselves, established 10-minute check-ins, and in some cases asked their news crews not to wear station logos while working in the field.

Radio journalists and stations faced far less violence than their television counterparts, the study said, with 13.8 percent of news directors and general managers at radio stations in major markets reporting attacks on their employees. 

Though not included in the study, attacks on reporters during protests continued this year as well. On April 14, journalists alleged they were harassed and assaulted by law enforcement during demonstrations in the Minneapolis area sparked by the police killing of 20-year-old Daunte Wright. 

The RTDNA isn’t the only group reporting on violence against journalists in the U.S. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 415 reporters were assaulted last year and 468 journalists have been attacked while covering protests since 2017. 

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) also noted the increasing danger U.S. journalists faced at protests last year.

“Attacks on journalists are disturbing and unacceptable,” said SPJ President Matthew Hall in response to the RTDNA study. “Everyone should feel safe at work, especially journalists who, like first responders, often run toward danger and who already have to deal with growing harassment on social media and in person.”

Outside the U.S., 65 media members were killed while on the job last year, a 35 percent increase in deaths from 2019, according to a report from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). 

In the report, the IFJ reported that 14 members of the media were killed last year in Mexico alone, making it the most dangerous country for reporters in four of the past five years. 

In all, violence has claimed the lives of 2,680 journalists and media workers outside the U.S. since 1990.