On behalf of the Association of Foreign Correspondents here in the US, I want to express my solidarity with Andrew Buncombe, Chief US correspondent of The Independent, who fell victim to unjust and blind police violence. What he experienced and described in detail in his article are shocking.
Recently, we issued a public statement urging all police authorities and security agencies involved in the country to ensure the right of its American journalists and foreign correspondents to carry out their reporting without fear, intimidation, and at no cost to their physical integrity and personal safety. Unfortunately, incidents of arrests of journalists like Andrew Buncombe prove that journalistic organizations' verbal statements may not be enough and that professionals in journalism should probably look for bigger solutions to a problem that does not only concern journalists themselves but our democracy.
I can identify two main reasons why we’ve seen such an increase in police violence against journalists in America lately. The first reason, in my opinion, is the reduced level of training and education of the representatives of the police authorities so they can distinguish, in a case of a demonstration or social unrest, the professional journalists from the protesters. Representatives of journalistic associations in the US should demand at both federal and states level the necessary training and education of police authorities about the role that reporters play in transmitting the truth to the public as a component of our democratic and constitutional values.
It’s not entirely a problem caused by a police training, however. Such cases of violence and intimidation against journalists here in the US have their roots in the denigration of the media by President Trump, who has adopted such a tactic as an electoral and political policy. When media and journalists are verbally threatened with intimidation and bullying by the leader of a country, the end result is violence and intimidation of journalists attempting to challenge that leader’s decisions on the streets.
President Trump has an institutional, moral, and political obligation to keep journalism out of politics. Unfortunately, I am not optimistic that he will do adhere to that obligation — or that the situation will improve soon.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made reporters’ jobs harder both in practical and economic terms. It has made it even harder for journalists like Andrew Buncombe to protect themselves against wrongful arrest. But it is not just here in the US where reporters are under siege. Over the last few years, this has become a global issue.
In Greece — my own home country — shocking revelations about the practices of the previous leftist SYRIZA government against journalists recently came to light. Former ministers have been demanding journalists' arrests for reporting which portrayed their government in a negative light. One former minister in Greece even asked the US authorities in New York to arrest me after I conducted an investigation into his meetings.
In that case, the minister called my reporting “harassment”. But journalism is not harassment. It is harassment when those in charge of a public or governmental authority use their power to devalue, manipulate, threaten or intimidate journalists.
It is imperative now that reporters stand up for their rights. By doing so, we not only protect ourselves and our profession, but we also offer the best services to our societies, our countries, and all functioning democracies.
Thanos Dimadis is a political analyst, President of the Association of Foreign Correspondents in the United States, and a Knight-Bagehot Fellow of Columbia Journalism School