SPJ/LA, Journalism Coalition Speak Out Against Amendment to SB 98

L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies in riot gear face protesters outside Men’s Central Jail in the Summer of 2020. (Photo/Frank Stolze)

The Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a broad coalition of journalism groups are voicing their opposition to a recent amendment to Senate Bill 98, a California bill originally intended to protect journalists covering protests, demonstrations and civil unrest:

We, the undersigned organizations, which collectively represent thousands of California journalists, strongly oppose a recent amendment made to SB 98, a bill originally intended to protect journalists covering protests, demonstrations and civil unrest. This amendment may actually restrict existing press freedoms rather than expand them, turning this bill on its head and into something that hurts the very people it was written to help.

Many of our organizations — an unprecedented coalition of press associations, labor unions, and journalism advocacy groups — had endorsed SB 98 prior to this amendment, and others were actively considering doing so. But as now amended, we must withhold any endorsement and are prepared to actively oppose SB 98 until its intent to protect journalists is restored.

We do not enter this political debate lightly. During the past two years, working conditions for California journalists have steadily deteriorated as many of our newspaper, television, radio, digital, freelance and student media colleagues covering protests have been arrested, detained or assaulted by law enforcement while on the job, including while covering the March 25 protest at Echo Park Lake in Los Angeles. Throughout California in the past 12 months alone, we have documented at least 36 incidents where police have injured, detained, arrested and violated the constitutional rights of clearly identifiable journalists.

SB 98, as originally introduced by Sen. Mike McGuire, would have modestly extended existing state protections for journalists working in disaster areas to also apply to journalists covering civil disturbances. But an amendment added by the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 20, 2021, would require journalists to seek permission of a police commander to enter closed areas around protests — a hurdle that doesn’t currently exist under state law. This is a clear attempt to hobble this bill. Journalists should not need permission from a police commander to cover protests, just as law enforcement-issued press credentials should not be required in order for journalists to exercise their First Amendment rights in a public forum.

We are aware that law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, have been lobbying on SB 98 in recent months. We would point out that the Sheriff's mishandling of press freedoms — the department's deputies tackled and arrested KPCC's Josie Huang last fall and have injured others — is one of the reasons our coalition formed in the first place.

We urge all First Amendment supporters in the California legislature to remove the amended language or strengthen SB 98 in a way that protects the vital activities of the press and the people's right to receive information regarding matters of public concern. We encourage Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign a genuinely strengthened version into law.


Asian American Journalists Association, Los Angeles chapter Californians Aware CCNMA: Latino Journalists of California IBEW Local 45 Journalism and Women Symposium, Southern California (JAWS SoCal) Los Angeles Press Club Media Alliance Media Guild of the West, NewsGuild-CWA Local 39213 National Association of Black Journalists of Los Angeles National Association of Hispanic Journalists National Press Photographers Association National Writers Union Online News Association Local Los Angeles Orange County Press Club Pacific Media Workers Guild, The NewsGuild-CWA Local 39521 Radio Television Digital News Association Society of Professional Journalists, Greater Los Angeles chapter Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California Chapter We Make KCRW - SAG-AFTRA

Questions, or want your organization to become a signatory? Contact Adam Rose of the LA Press Club at adjoro@gmail.com or Matt Pearce of Media Guild of the West at president@mediaguildwest.org.

This article has been amended to add the photo description.