Is U.S. Freedom of the Press in Jeopardy? (Updated)
And now this, “Rosenstein, DOJ exploring ways to more easily spy on journalists”
For months now, the Department of Justice (DOJ) quietly has been working on a revision to its guidelines governing how, when and why prosecutors can obtain the records of journalists, particularly in leak cases.
Read more here
In a related article on freedom of the press, I mentioned the “ups and downs” Latin American countries have experienced with respect to such freedom.
While there continue to be “problems of violence, impunity, and authoritarian policies towards journalists in many Latin American countries,” including physical attacks and murder, various organizations (such as Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF), and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) point to “a slight overall improvement in respect for press freedom in Latin America.”
And while our country prides itself in continuing to zealously protect our rights guaranteed under the First Amendment, the words and actions by the 45th president are disconcerting to many Americans, including Latinoamericanos, both those residing in the U.S. and living elsewhere.
Witness an August 2018 editorial in El Diario, the largest and the oldest Spanish-language daily in the United States.
Joining 350 other newspapers in support of a Boston Globe campaign denouncing Trump’s attacks on the press, El Diario wrote (roughly translated):
Freedom of expression is the pillar of free peoples…
It is necessary, at this time, to reaffirm the mission of communicators/reporters and their commitment not to give in to White House intimidation. The hostility towards reporters, the strategy of lies and contradictions serve to create a confusion that can create doubts about r everything. Verbal antagonism against journalists is a daily occurrence.
Latin Americans know first-hand what the erosion of journalism, intimidation of reporters, self-censorship and unbridled presidential ambition mean. It is said that “these things do not occur” in the United States, although it is easy to point out that it is a serious problem when the president declares that the media are “the enemy of the people.”
In February 2018, Bruce D. Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, wrote in TIME, “[J]ournalists from Latin America…are in a unique position to help us better appreciate what we are facing in the U.S. — and where we might be headed if we do not defeat the virulent strain of press hatred stoked by President Trump.”
Brown was referring to an Inter American Press Association (IAPA) mission headed to Washington, D.C. “for meetings with legislators, policymakers and the American media about the undermining of press protections in this country.”
Like Brown, this author could not have imagined that “we would be welcoming an IAPA mission to the United States.”
There are other disturbing reports, some a bit sensationalist, some not so.
Here’s one by The Hill in December 2018.
With the headline “US joins ranks of world’s most dangerous places for journalists for first time,” The Hill reports:
The U.S. was ranked one of the deadliest countries for journalists in 2018 for the first time in an annual report from Reporters Without Borders.
The U.S. ranked sixth among the most lethal countries for journalists, behind Afghanistan, Syria, Mexico, Yemen and India, in that order.
Six journalists were killed in the U.S. this year.
Included in the six fatalities are the four journalists killed when a gunman opened fire at the Annapolis, Md. offices of the Capital Gazette and a North Carolina television anchor and cameraman killed by a falling tree while covering a hurricane in May.
While the fatalities are tragic, this author believes – at least hopes — that such a one-time occurrence is just that and that it represents neither a trend nor an omen for the future of our country.
What is jarring, however, is how, in 2018, the U.S. dropped two positions from its 2017 position in the “World Press Freedom Index” and the following statement in a December 2018 Newsweek publication:
“More and more democratically elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion,” RSF said in a statement accompanying the release of its rankings. “A media-bashing enthusiast, Trump has referred to reporters as ‘enemies of the people,’ the term once used by (former Soviet leader) Joseph Stalin.”
Some Latin American countries (and many other nations around the globe) still have a long way to go to match or even approach the First Amendment rights we enjoy in the United States. Some will call the criticism by these countries and individuals audaciously insolent. Others will claim, perhaps rightly so, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
Nevertheless, the fact that perhaps for the first time stones are thrown at the United States about a right that has been so sacred for so long to so many, could be a wake-up call.