EDITORIAL: Protecting a free press so it can safely do its job

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Jul. 30—We welcome the reintroduction of legislation by Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal to make it a federal crime to harm working journalists with the intent of intimidating or preventing them from doing their jobs.

Joining the Connecticut senator in introducing the Senate bill was Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey. Rep. Eric Swalwell of California introduced the same legislation in the House of Representatives. All three lawmakers are Democrats.

Of course, harming anyone is a crime. But as with hate-crimes legislation, this law would focus on acts of violence targeted at a specific group, in this case journalists carrying out their jobs of informing the public and holding public officials accountable.

In introducing the legislation, Blumenthal called the role of journalists "fundamental to our democracy."

As with federal hate-crime and civil-rights laws, it would give federal authorities the ability to intercede if such crimes are not pursued at the state or local level, perhaps because state or local officials would prefer that reporters not be able to do their jobs easily.

Domestic attacks on journalists are at an all-time high, at least since such statistics have been accumulated. According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, there were 428 assaults on journalists in 2020 — that's higher than the prior three years combined.

"As threats and violence against the media have multiplied more menacingly in recent years, the press needs and deserves greater protection," said Blumenthal.

We agree. So do many news media organizations, including News Media for Open Government, the National Press Photographers Association, the National Newspaper Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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