Violent Oakland attacks jolt media

I recently screened Ken Kobre’s fantastic documentary, Deadline Every Second, which follows AP photographers around the globe on harrowing, dangerous, and yes, even boring assignments.

One memorable sequence shows AP photographer Tara Todras-Whitehill and others working to capture firefights, funerals and protests in Palestine. These photographers braved rubber bullets, tear gas, and assault from police officers just to capture and share their important images with the world.

Yet amid all the violence and suffering in one of the world’s harshest regions, none of these journalists were attacked by the very people in the community they were covering. None had their equipment violently ripped from their persons in brazen, senseless, daylight attacks.

Oakland, though, is a different story.

Since April, eight separate attacks on working media — some at gunpoint — have been reported on Oakland streets. One Oakland Tribune photographer, Laura Oda, has had her camera equipment robbed twice.

Last week — during a live lunchtime broadcast — KPIX camera operator Gregg Welk was assaulted and robbed, with his camera knocked to the ground just as reporter Anne Makovec’s live stand-up was wrapping up.

A day later, Deliane Phillips was arrested by Emeryville police in a car connected with the robbery. Oakland police nabbed Phillips the next day in court, and Tuesday they charged him with robbery. The Trib reports that Phillips was identified by the victim in a photo lineup.

Bay Area media outlets have now been forced to resort to send private security officers along with news crews for their own protection. SAG-AFTRA, the union representing TV and radio reporters, sent a letter to local stations demanding “immediate attention” in protecting their working members.

Some worry that violent communities may deter exactly the kind of media coverage that can help draw attention to important issues. One local TV reporter — who the Chron agreed not to identify — said it will take more than a bit of violence to scare her away:

“It’s scary, there’s no doubt about it. But we’re not going to stop covering news in Oakland.”