(Los Angeles, CA) — PEN America today expressed its support for California Senate Bill 98 in its original form, without an amendment which would require that journalists receive “authorization from a commanding officer on scene” to be given press access to protected protest sites. In its original form, SB 98 provides press protections during public gatherings and demonstrations, shielded from law enforcement interference or harassment while doing their job of reporting at protest sites. 

“The original language of SB 98 is welcome legislation to protect freedom of the press in California,” said Nora Benavidez, PEN America’s director of U.S. free expression programs. “After more than a year in which we have seen unprecedented numbers of attacks by law enforcement against journalists covering protests, SB 98’s original text affords members of the media much needed protection to be free from harassment or other unconstitutional interference by police. California legislators should signal their commitment to press freedom, which ought to be free from law enforcement attacks, by signing this bill into law.”

Legislators recently proposed an amendment to SB 98 which undermined the spirit of the original bill and would have required members of the press covering protests to seek permission from commanding officers before entering closed areas. PEN America supports the original, not amended, legislation.

In an era of not only increased violations of press freedom but increased anti-protest legislation aimed at chilling freedom of assembly, PEN America has monitored these efforts in the reports Arresting Dissent and Closing Ranks. PEN America today said those twin threats to democracy speak to a larger attack on First Amendment rights and must be addressed with appropriate legislative action. 

PEN America’s Los Angeles office has previously advocated for press freedom protections, including through public programs on press freedom at the California-Mexico border, legal cases calling for reporters to be free from warrantless property seizure, and more.