U.S. Press Freedom Tracker
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Journalists arrested in the U.S. 2017-present

June 15, 2023

Journalists are most likely to be arrested or detained while covering demonstrations

That's what our year-over-year data consistently shows. This effectively chills newsgathering; law enforcement has the ability to dissuade or altogether halt the reporting process while it’s in progress.

Our Arrest/Criminal Charge category documents these arrests, as well as journalists charged with a crime like trespassing or contempt of court, from 2017 forward. Explore the reports and data visualizations for each year below.

Arrests and detainments of journalists in the U.S., 2017-present

2017 — Overview

In the Tracker’s first year, we documented nearly 150 press freedom violations across our categories, including 40 arrests and detainments of journalists. The vast majority — 85% — of those occurred while the journalists were covering protests and rallies, from environmental protests around the Dakota Access Pipeline project to national political rallies leading up to the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump.

2017 map — Arrests of journalists in the U.S.

2018 — Overview

In 2018, 13 journalists were arrested or detained, far fewer than the year before. Our year-end review notes, however, that while the number is lower, the circumstances “are strikingly similar.”

Nearly 40% of the arrests took place at protests — specifically, white nationalist demonstrations and protests in opposition to pipeline constructions.

2018 map — Arrests of journalists in the U.S.

2019 — Overview

Nine journalists were arrested or detained in 2019, the fewest since the Tracker’s 2017 launch.

Our year-in-review newsletter (subscribe here) highlights freelance journalist Bryan Carmody, a California-based videographer who was detained for more than five hours at his home while officers executed search warrants and seized equipment — all in an attempt by the San Francisco Police Department to learn his confidential sources. (Three other search warrants, for Carmody’s phone records, came to light after the home and office raid — all were eventually deemed invalid by San Francisco superior court judges.)

A year later, Carmody and the SFPD reached a settlement agreement which included the police department acknowledging the need to uphold press protections.

2019 map — Arrests of journalists in the U.S.

2020 — Overview

“The numbers are staggering,” wrote Freedom of the Press Foundation Executive Director Trevor Timm about the 145 arrests and detainments of journalists in 2020. (FPF oversees the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.) The vast majority of these arrests and detainments occurred while journalists were documenting the historic, nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd in May and in support of Black Lives Matter.

In just one week, from May 29-June 4, more reporters were arrested in the U.S. than in the previous three years — combined. Arrests occurred in 2020 in more than two dozen cities across the country. And 40% of the arrests were accompanied by an assault: Journalists were beaten, hit with rubber bullets or other projectiles or covered in chemical agents, like tear gas or pepper spray.

2020 map — Arrests of journalists in the U.S.

2021 — Overview

In 2021, the Tracker documented the arrests or detainments of 59 journalists, or an average of more than one journalist per week.

Twenty-five of those were journalists caught in police kettles, a tactic used by law enforcement to pen in large crowds, often before mass arrests.

2021 map — Arrests of journalists in the U.S.

2022 — Overview

More than half the arrests and detainments in 2022 were related to the covering of reproductive rights protests.

Eight journalists were detained during back-to-back days of national protests after the Supreme Court handed down its highly anticipated ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization.

2022 map — Arrests of journalists in the U.S.

This special section was last updated by the Tracker team in June 2023.

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