Correspondent Amelia Brace and cameraman Tim Myers of Australia’s 7NEWS were charged Monday by police officers and National Guard units who fired rubber bullets, deployed flash bangs and set off tear gas bombs to force protesters from Lafayette Square across from the White House.
The tactics by law enforcement, applied indiscriminately against protesters as well as members of the media, cleared the way for Trump and top administration officials to venture across the street to St. John’s Church, where he posed with a Bible.
Video of the encounter between the Australian journalists and U.S. law enforcement, which was broadcast live on-air and circulated on social media, seemingly depicts an officer outfitted in riot gear bludgeoning Myers, who Brace previously reported had already been struck by a rubber bullet.
Payne said Tuesday the Australian government had reached out to Brace and Myers via the embassy and 7NEWS in Australia “to check on their wellbeing,” and urged “all involved on both sides” of the U.S. protests “to exercise restraint and to avoid violence.”
Developing News on Nationwide Protests
In a statement Tuesday morning, U.S. Ambassador to Australia Arthur Culvahouse described freedom of the press as a “right Austalians and Americans hold dear,” and said, “We take mistreatment of journalists seriously, as do all who take democracy seriously.” The Australian embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Later Tuesday, the White House released a readout of a call that it said took place Monday between Trump and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. It's unclear whether the call took place before or after the confrontation involving the 7NEWS reporters, but the readout makes no mention of the Australian news crew's interaction with U.S. law enforcement.
The confrontation Monday and the subsequent action by the Australian government represents one of the first major diplomatic fissures to result from the nationwide wave of racial unrest in the U.S.
Increasingly volatile protests have flared up in major American cities since late last week after George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died in the custody of Minneapolis police. Widespread looting and riots provoked Trump to threaten the use of military force Monday if state and local officials refused to activate the National Guard.
The chaos has also produced numerous episodes of police brutality against protesters and bystanders, and at least 125 press freedom violations have been reported across the country since last Friday by journalists covering the protests, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.