Readers of the Democratic press often comment on Kent Porter’s sensational work, especially his photos of raging wildfires and brave firefighters battling the flames. Covering fires requires skill and experience, courage and access.

California law allows authorities to shut down areas affected by disasters for public safety. However, the law states that “nothing in this article shall prevent a duly authorized representative of a news service, newspaper, radio or television station or network from entering areas closed under this article ”.

Sometimes the police forget this last provision – Article 409.5 (d) of the Penal Code – or perhaps that it was left out of their training. Porter met one of these officers two weeks ago on his way to cover the Hopkins fire, which destroyed 30 homes near Ukiah.

“He was adamant,” Porter later said in a Facebook post. “I was reluctant to pull the 409.5 card on him, he seemed like a pretty nice guy. Once I quoted the law, he reluctantly let me pass, but he also said, if you oppose the fire department, “I will arrest you.” “

Porter concluded with some great advice: “Don’t give up your rights as a journalist, claim the truth, ask a ton of questions and be adamant that you have the legal right to document disasters so that others can. see them. “

That is why the law was promulgated. Reporters, photographers and videographers are the eyes and ears of the public. Their on-site accounts help people understand the scale of flooding, earthquakes, explosions and fires, like the one outside Ukiah and those currently burning near Lake Tahoe and Sequoia National Park. .

A bill from State Senator Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, awaiting action on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk would guarantee journalists equal access to protests and protests.

There have been too many cases in which overzealous law enforcement officials at protests have taken it upon themselves to interfere with media coverage and even arrest journalists and photographers doing their jobs.

Journalists have been arrested, pepper sprayed and shot with rubber bullets by officers during Black Lives Matter protests in California and many other states last year. In some cases, authorities appeared to specifically target press teams.

Fortunately, such incidents are not common. But whenever something like this happens, the public is denied frontline reporting on a public event and the police response to it. Imagine the attempts by supporters and protesters to fill the information void if news crews were denied access to the U.S. Capitol during the January 6 riot.

McGuire’s bill, SB 98, would allow California journalists to stay in areas that police have ordered cleared of protesters. Reaffirming existing law, the McGuire Bill also allows journalists to work near police command posts. And he says detained journalists have the right to immediately contact a monitoring officer to challenge their detention.

A nearly identical bill, also from McGuire, was passed last year. Newsom vetoed it, expressing fears that “marginal groups” could gain access to cordoned off areas pretending to be journalists. The new draft law, like the disaster area law, clearly applies to “duly authorized representatives” of media outlets. This should allow the authorities to repel intruders.

Demonstration is a fundamental right, guaranteed by the First Amendment. The same goes for reporting. By signing SB 98, Newsom can ensure journalists are able to do their jobs and protect the public’s right to know.

You can send letters to the editor for letters@pressdemocrat.com.