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As Protests Turn into Riots, TV Becomes Part of the News

CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and several other members of his team were arrested on the air early Friday morning. (Image credit: CNN)

WASHINGTON—As protests over police brutality engulfed the United States over the weekend, TV news crews tried to keep up with covering the events, but sometimes ended up becoming part of the story. 

Early Friday morning, several members of a CNN news group were arrested by police in Minneapolis on live TV. On-air CNN reporter Omar Jimenez, a producer and cameraman were handcuffed by Minneapolis police as the network covered protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers a week ago. The crew was accused of not moving when police ordered them to.

The CNN employees were released an hour later with an apology from Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, who called the arrests “totally unacceptable.”

Jimenez described his ordeal on CNN later that day.

“It did cross my mind that—what is really happening here? —the one thing that gave me a little bit of comfort was that it happened on live TV,” he said. “When you talk within the community with, let’s just say what’s happened with George Floyd, there’s always a discussion that what’s happening isn’t new—it’s being filmed.”

Earlier, as protests broke out in an increasing number of cities Friday night, a group of protesters circled CNN headquarters in Atlanta, chanting anti-media slogans and vandalizing the front of the building, including the network logo. 

The mayor of Atlanta chastised the protesters, noting the importance of the network’s presence on the eve of CNN’s 40th anniversary, June 1.

"You have defaced the CNN building,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said at a news conference. “Ted Turner started CNN in Atlanta, 40 years ago because he believed in who we are as a city."

The Friday arrests were just the latest in a slew of incidents in which journalists from TV, radio, print and online were assaulted by police and protesters in a number of cities where protests erupted over the weekend. 

Also on Friday, reports that police in Louisville, Ky., fired pepper balls on a local TV station crew covering protests in that city drew this response from NAB: 

“NAB condemns the actions of the Louisville police officer who fired pepper balls at a local TV crew legally covering downtown protests on Friday night. No police officer has the right to fire any type of ammunition at journalists who are simply doing their jobs and appropriately positioned to cover the news. NAB calls for a swift investigation of this incident to ensure that journalists have the necessary protections to report the news.”

The Radio and Television Digital News Directors Association (RTDNA) issued these recommendations to journalists to help protect themselves:

On Sunday, broadcast journalists were praised for their coverage and restraint by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

“I commend the extraordinary efforts of local broadcasters to keep Americans informed about the protests and violence taking place in our nation’s cities following the awful killing of George Floyd,” the chairman said over the weekend. “Those who work for local television and radio stations are often putting themselves at personal risk to serve the public interest, and they must be allowed to do their jobs without being threatened or attacked. I hope that they and all Americans stay safe.”