Journalism groups 'gravely concerned' about threat to reporters covering inauguration

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The Committee to Protect Journalists told reporters not to use equipment with cables, which could be used by pro-Trump mobs to hurt them.

Journalism organizations are increasingly concerned about the safety of reporters covering President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20 after a violent mob of pro-Donald Trump extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. last Wednesday, leaving five people dead.

On Thursday, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a safety advisory to prepare journalists for the "risk of hostility and violence" while covering the major political event.

The committee warned against using equipment with cables, which "could potentially be used to attack journalists," citing a photo that showed a noose, tied from a camera cord, hanging from a tree during the Capitol riot. The advisory recommended battery-powered equipment instead.

For safety reasons, the group advised reporters against wearing press lanyards around their neck, saying, "Be aware that straps that release when pulled could lead to media credentials being stolen. Consider a velcro pouch on your bicep instead."

The organization provided guidance on clothing, ankle-supporting footwear — and even hair.

"Wear clothing that helps you 'blend in,' that doesn’t look too 'tactical' or 'military,' and that allows you to move swiftly. Try and avoid loose clothing," the advisory said. "Tie long hair up to prevent individuals from pulling you from behind."

The group suggested for reporters to park their vehicles "facing the direction of escape," which reflects stark language used for journalists covering war zones.

Another journalism organization, Reporters Without Borders, issued a statement Wednesday, saying it is "gravely concerned for the safety of journalists in the U.S." ahead of Biden's inauguration.

"Amid growing reports that further violence and armed protests could take place in the U.S. capital and across the country in the coming week, RSF is urging authorities to take every action to ensure the safety of members of the media covering such events," the group said.

Anna K. Nelson, the organization's U.S. executive director, added: "The harrowing accounts from journalists who were present at last week’s uprising at the U.S. Congress were chilling. We condemn the violence in the strongest possible terms and urge the authorities to hold alleged aggressors accountable. We call on everyone to respect press freedom and to ensure journalists are allowed to safely carry out their vital work."

On Thursday, the Poynter Institute, which provides journalism education and training, published an article with resources for reporters to help guard their physical and mental health while covering the inauguration.

Joie Chen, Poynter’s senior adviser, suggested among other things that journalists "turn your phone’s touch ID and face ID off so no one can force you to open, view or delete photos or video footage."

Journalist Sergio Olmos told Poynter he regularly dons "lightweight Kevlar, a helmet, safety glasses, a gas mask" during coverage. Olmos emphasized that those covering the inauguration should focus on protecting their eyes, recommending "basic hardware store safety goggles, which are cheap, lightweight and inconspicuous."

During the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, journalists suffered a number of harrowing threats from rioters.

A chilling video shared on social media showed Associated Press photographer John Minchillo attacked and pushed back and forth by rioters, even shoved over a ledge at one point.

Another image showed the crowd destroying tripods and media equipment and reportedly attempting to "light it on fire," according to a BuzzFeed reporter. "We are the news now," one person reportedly yelled.

In video of the moment, rioters are heard chanting "CNN sucks" while stomping on cameras and tripods labeled with Associated Press stickers.

A harrowing image also showed the phrase "Murder the media" carved into a door inside the Capitol.

In 2020 alone, more than 850 aggressions — including 339 assaults — were committed against journalists who covered protests, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

Journalists who have been harassed, threatened, attacked, or had equipment stolen or damaged during protests are able to submit an incident report to the tracker.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.