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Gavin Newsom signs law giving journalists unrestricted access to protests closed by police

Sacramento Bee logo Sacramento Bee 10/10/2021 Andrew Sheeler, The Sacramento Bee

Oct. 10—Police must allow journalists access to closed-off demonstrations and protests, under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The new law, Senate Bill 98, requires that journalists be given unfettered access to closed-off protests, and prohibits law enforcement officers from assaulting, interfering or obstructing journalists from covering such events.

Journalists at such scenes "shall not be cited for the failure to disperse,violation of a curfew or resisting arrest," according to a California Senate floor analysis of the bill.

The law applies to "duly authorized" members of any news service, online news service, newspaper, or radio or television station or network.

The bill's author, Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, argued that while California law permitted journalists access to closed areas during emergencies and natural disasters, those protections didn't extend to covering demonstrations, marches, protests and rallies.

"There's no doubt about it, California now has some of the toughest protections in place for journalists compared to any other state in America. We have seen a surge in egregious acts of violence and obstruction made against members of the press across the country and right here at home in the Golden State," McGuire said in a written statement.


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"This law will provide critical protections for the press as they attend and report on First Amendment events like protests, marches, rallies, and demonstrations. California is leading the way to ensure the freedom of the press and the First Amendment are protected and held to the highest standard," he said.

The bill was championed by several media advocacy organizations — such as the California News Publishers Association and the California Broadcasters Association — as well as groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of California.

In a statement of support for the bill, the coalition of groups cited several police assaults and arrests of journalists who were documenting protests that were closed down.

Journalists from time to time are apprehended by police or blocked from covering events. In Sacramento, for instance, Sacramento Bee reporter Dale Kasler was detained by police in 2019 while in East Sacramento covering a protest regarding the police killing of Stephon Clark. Kasler had been documenting the protest via Facebook Live when police handcuffed him and held him for about an hour.

The bill was opposed by a coalition of law enforcement groups, including the California Peace Officers' Association, the California Police Chiefs Association, California Statewide Law Enforcement Association and the California State Sheriffs' Association.

The latter group issued a statement, according to the Senate floor analysis, objecting to the provision of the law allowing members of the press free access to areas that law enforcement has determined should be restricted for public safety reasons.

"Even if simply carrying forward similar provisions that relate to disasters, we note that the dangers associated with allowing nearly unfettered access to an emergency command post are significantly different when dealing with assemblies of people rather than natural or manmade disasters," the group said.

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