New report suggests press freedom violations during public protest are systemic, not isolated incidents

NEW YORK —The striking number of violations of press freedom during the Ferguson, MO protests reveals an urgent need for better training for police on media freedoms during public demonstrations, PEN American Center said in a report today.

“Press Freedom Under Fire in Ferguson,” announced this morning in the New York Times, documents 52 alleged incidents of press freedom violations during the Ferguson protests, including arrests, verbal threats, and physical harm— including the use of tear gas—to journalists covering the protests. The report also notes multiple allegations of loaded guns pointed at journalists engaged in newsgathering activities.

“The press play a critical role in documenting and disseminating information about human rights violations, including those that happen during public protests,” said Katy Glenn Bass, Deputy Director of Free Expression Programs at PEN and the lead researcher on the report.  “The pattern of press freedom violations observed in Ferguson is troubling not only because it suggests a breakdown in communication between the police and the fourth estate, but also because it restricted the flow of public information about police actions in Ferguson, thus limiting the ability to hold the police accountable for misconduct.”  

The report reveals a troubling trend in police treatment of the press during popular protests over the last seven years, including the 2008 Republican and Democratic National Conventions and the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement. PEN recommends the Justice Department conduct a full investigation into all press freedom violations in Ferguson and issue guidelines for police forces on respect for media freedoms during public demonstrations.

“The Justice Department should provide clarity to police departments nationwide to ensure that press freedoms during public protests are fully respected. Police should also be trained on press rights in the digital age of cell phone cameras and citizen journalists,” said Bass.


Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of PEN International, the world’s only international association of writers working to defend free expression and to protect persecuted writers. PEN International was founded after World War I to dispel national, ethnic, and racial tensions and to promote understanding among all countries. Founded a year later, PEN American Center works to advance literature, to defend free expression, and to foster international literary fellowship. Its 3,500 distinguished members carry on the achievements in literature and advancement of human rights of such past members as James Baldwin, Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, and Alice Walker.


Katy Glenn Bass, Deputy Director of Free Expression Programs:, (212) 334.1660 x 109
Sarah Edkins, Communications Manager:, m. (617) 947.6512