Now that Gov. Gavin Newsom prevailed in the recall election, he has work to do.

Among the bills awaiting his signature is SB 98, which would protect journalists covering protests.

When a similar measure was quietly vetoed last year, few noticed.

This year is different.

There have been dozens of documented examples of journalists in California injured, detained or arrested by police while trying to do their jobs: covering protests on public issues such as police brutality and homelessness.

That’s why an unprecedented coalition of 20-plus journalism groups and unions around the state, and the thousands of members they collectively represent, support the new legislation that has cleared both chambers with 85% of votes cast.

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Law enforcement representatives, who have cited a concern that the bill could make it hard for police to distinguish between journalists and extremists, have provided no serious examples of this happening.

What has been documented, however, are more than 50 incidents in a roughly 12-month period in which clearly identifiable journalists in California reported being targeted by police while covering protests.

For instance, Bay Area News Group reporter Maggie Angst and San Jose Spotlight freelancer Luke Johnson were covering a protest on May 31, 2020, when police demanded they lie down with their faces to the ground. Even after they informed officers they were reporters, they were threatened with a baton.

Bay Area News Group reporter Leonardo Castañeda was detained with zip ties that same night at a protest in San Francisco, though he wore his press lanyard. The next day, Katie Nielson, a KPIX 5 News reporter was detained by police at a protest in Oakland.

Months later in Southern California, KPCC reporter Josie Huang was tackled and arrested by law enforcement at a protest. This year, multiple journalists wound up in police zip ties or worse during a Mar. 25 protest at Echo Park Lake in Los Angeles.

As the eyes and ears of the public, it’s crucial for journalists to have access to public events protected by the First Amendment.

When they’re free to do their jobs, journalists cover critical issues and incidents that should be documented. Like when police pushed an elderly man in Buffalo to the ground or when a California Highway Patrol cruiser took off with a protester on it, who fell off and was knocked unconscious. News crews also captured protesters damaging another cruiser right after that.

KPIX 5’s Nielson noted that just being detained a few minutes “was enough to keep us from reporting and shooting the arrests that were happening with the protesters.”

Recognizing the need for press freedom, Sen. Mike McGuire, D-North Coast, wrote SB 98 to effectively extend existing state protections for journalists working in disaster areas to also apply to journalists covering civil disturbances.

The bill would allow working journalists to remain in the area during unlawful assemblies without fear of arrest, documenting the actions of protesters as well as police.

The legislation is a modest step, but essential because it affirms the First Amendment-protected right of journalists to cover demonstrations without being cordoned off to an area where their view is blocked and they can’t properly photograph, take notes or record.

The law would also prevent law enforcement from intentionally interfering with or assaulting journalists who are in the process of newsgathering.

This bill is substantially improved compared to last year’s, addressing the governor’s past concerns. It now clarifies that journalists aren’t being granted full access inside police command posts, nor can they obstruct police from carrying out their duties.

Just as lawmakers recognized journalists’ First Amendment rights, let’s urge Newsom to uphold them — because journalism is not a crime and restricting press freedom doesn’t just hurt reporters.

It affects us all by limiting the information we rely on to hold officials accountable and to ensure our voices are heard.

Julie Patel Liss is a Cal State Los Angeles journalism professor. Adam Rose is a member of the Los Angeles Press club and chairs their committee on press rights.