Archive for the ‘Advocacy’ Category


The Last Word

Here are my final remarks from the President’s Installation Banquet at the Excellence in Journalism Conference in San Antonio on Sept. 7, 2019.

At my induction last year in Baltimore, I quoted Albert Camus, who, on the liberation of Paris from Nazi rule, urged journalists to make their voice one of energy, not of hatred, and to take pride in objectivity, and not rhetoric. Let’s not sugarcoat our situation today, our profession is, likewise, under extreme duress and not just simply from ever shrinking newsrooms and the questioning of the media’s integrity but worse: physical assaults at political rallies, and the most disturbing event of all – the deadly attack on the Capitol Gazette. In short, our mission to defend and celebrate journalism is still relevant and ever more dependent on our collective willingness to seek and stand up for the unadulterated truth no matter what the circumstances.

To do this we must jealously hold fast to the freedoms granted us by the First Amendment. These were violated recently, in San Francisco, despite the California Shield law. Police raided the home of journalist Bryan Carmody seeking clues to a confidential police informant. Thanks to SPJ’s NorCal chapter he was interviewed by me at the Medill campus in downtown San Francisco. By the way, it was Bryan’s first public interview. This was a shining example of a successful collaboration between SPJ’s national and local leaders, and their partners, for the right cause – defending our journalist’s rights and with them – our democracy.

I’m particularly proud of the unprecedented summit, Quo Vadis Democracy, that our stellar SPJ staff produced in New York this spring. Together we organized panels about online disinformation and the dangers it poses to our elections and democracy as a whole. One of the featured speakers at this summit is with us here tonight, Maria Ressa, and we are honored to have her with us again. As many of you may be aware by now my focus has always been advocacy and to do this right it is best done in partnership with like-minded groups. We took a giant leap in that direction when we met with more than 30 press freedom groups at this summit where we put together a joint resolution.

I had the honor of later speaking about this summit and journalist protection before an audience of 400 at the United Nations headquarters on World Press Freedom Day. Indeed, it’s been a never-ending pleasure to meet with foreign journalists from countries without any meaningful press freedom. I sincerely believe that, at its best, SPJ, particularly its code of ethics, can serve as a model to the world.

The potential is there but it is imperative we get our house in order. Yes, we’re working diligently to find a new Executive Director, but we ourselves must acknowledge that this is a national organization. It is incumbent upon its leadership, now and in the future, to think large. We have been and we should be focused on advocacy, both in the halls of Congress and in statehouses across the land. And let’s make it clear, this room and our board should more closely resemble the diversity of America that we see when we walk out on East Commerce Street, steps from the front door of our hotel.

 

—30—

 

Advocacy

 

During the 2018-2019 term, SPJ has responded to the heightened challenges to press freedom, including verbal and physical attacks on journalists, with a wave of advocacy statements and interviews by SPJ leaders.

The key statements and media interviews can also be found here

 

Media Interviews by SPJ National Leaders

 

September 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 2019

 

 

May 2019

 

 

 

 

April 2019

 

 

 

March 2019

 

February 2019

 

 

 

 

January 2019

 

 

 

November 2018

 

 

October 2018

 

September 2018

  • Live radio interview with SPJ National President-Elect J. Alex Tarquinio about the First Amendment and Open Government on Court Radio, WRNB 100.3 FM Philadelphia, Sept. 1, 2018

 

Public Appearances by SPJ National Leaders

 

August 2019

 

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio moderated a live interview with San Francisco journalist Bryan Carmody, whose home was raided by the police in search of clues to his confidential sources, along with his lawyer. (video)

 

  • Lynn Walsh organized a Facebook “Train the Trainers” program from Aug. 15 to 16. SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio gave opening remarks.

 

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio and SPJ Indiana State Pro Chapter President John Russell gave remarks at the 110th SPJ Anniversary event at DePauw University. (video)

 

July 2019

  • SPJ Journalist on Call Rod Hicks hosted the final session of the Casper Project, with Foundation President Irwin Gratz and SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio giving opening remarks, July 16.

 

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio represented the Society at a forum on journalist safety at the United Nations, July 17.

 

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio gave opening remarks at a D.C. Pro chapter event about Whistleblowers, July 31.

 

June 2019

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio gave opening remarks at an SPJ Google News Institute event before the SDX Banquet, June 21.

 

May 2019

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio delivered prepared remarks and participated on a panel with Steven Adler and Warren Hoge before an audience of 400 at the United Nations headquarters in New York on World Press Freedom Day, May 3. (video) (text of remarks)

 

 

April 2019

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio produced and hosted a World Press Freedom Day Summit from April 26 to 27 with a generous grant from Craig Newmark. The theme of this gathering, known as Quo Vadis Democracy was journalism nonprofit leaders was the threat of disinformation to journalism and democracy. (videos) (text of group resolution)

 

March 2019

 

 

November 2018

 

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio represented the Society at the Paris Peace Forum, Nov. 11, 2019. Her column about it was picked up by the Associated Press.

 

October 2018

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio and RTDNA Executive Director Dan Shelley spoke to a group of 25 global journalists at the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Press Center at the United Nations, Oct. 5.

 

 

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio gave remarks at the SPJ Google News Institute election training event in Washington, D.C., Oct. 16.

 

September 2018

 

Advocacy Statements

The Legal Defense Fund Committee

Signed 55+ (some are in process) Friend of the Court briefs and advocacy letters and statements since October 2018, which can be viewed here

 

Press Releases

 

July 2019

 

May 2019

 

 

 

 

 

March 2019

 

 

 

February 2019

 

January 2019

 

December 2018

 

November 2018

 

 

 

October 2018

 

—30—

 

 

Journalism Trust Initiative

The old maxim that a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on is out of date. In the Internet age, a lie can circle the globe many times while the truth is struggling to get followers.

The deliberate spread of disinformation is an ancient problem. What is new is the rapidity and ease with which it can spread. Technology has put low-cost disinformation tools into the hands of anyone with Internet access. In recent years, several programs have been created to tackle this thorny issue, among them, the Journalism Trust Initiative. Reporters Without Borders, also known internationally by its French name Reporters Sans Frontières, has been working on this year-long project to verify news websites in the fight against online disinformation.

I am a proud participant in the JTI project, having been invited to represent the Society of Professional Journalists on the drafting committee. I was immediately won over to the idea of using algorithms to elevate content from ethical news outlets above the flotsam and jetsam of the Internet. For the past year, my fellow participants, who include more than 120 global media and non-profit leaders, have met to discuss such important topics as media ownership, transparency and ethics. SPJ is the only U.S. professional journalism association represented.

Yesterday, the project took a giant leap forward with the announcement of a $1.5 million gift from Craig Newmark Philanthropies to help fund the implementation of JTI. After more than a year of meetings to hammer out a consensus-based set of standards for trustworthy journalism, the second phase of this project will allow media outlets to implement the standards in a voluntary, self-regulatory process.

Yet as the first phase draws to a close, the critical stage of gathering public comments is underway. After approving a draft document at a plenary session in Geneva in June, the working draft  has been shared with the public for comments.

Attendees at the Excellence in Journalism Conference in San Antonio will get a chance to weigh in on the document and contribute their suggestions in a half-day workshop, from 1 – 4 p.m. in Lone Star B on the second floor of the conference.

If you’re in San Antonio, come contribute your ideas about how applying journalistic standards to websites might fix disinformation. And most importantly, help us decide if the U.S. news media should get on board with this project.

If you’re not in San Antonio, learn more and contribute comments until Oct. 18 via this website. My fellow project participants and I will review all comments before voting on the final document in November.

—30—

President’s Letter from San Antonio

Here is the final President’s Letter from the board packets for the Sept. 5 meeting of the national board of directors at the Excellence in Journalism Conference in San Antonio. Read the highlights of the year, including major accomplishments by the SPJ volunteers and staff.

MEMORANDUM

FROM: J. Alex Tarquinio, SPJ National President

TO: SPJ national board of directors

RE: Final report for Sept. 5, 2019 board meeting

Colleagues,

At this crucial moment for our Society, we should not rush headlong into the future without pausing to reflect on the accomplishments made during this pivotal year. Despite the challenges of operating without a permanent executive director, our tireless volunteers and staff have achieved great things in this, the 110th anniversary of the Society of Professional Journalists.

PRESIDENT’S REPORT

The national committees have been going full steam ahead. Here are some top-level highlights from the reports to follow in this packet:

  • Membership: Colin DeVries, the committee chair who took charge midterm, created a successful summer membership drive that resulted in 220 new members (versus 148 in the same period a year ago) and 607 renewing members (versus 296.)
  • Diversity: Rebecca Aguilar and Ivette Davila-Richards, the new committee chair and vice chair, have revamped the Dori Maynard Diversity Leadership Program from top to bottom. The committee is hosting six extraordinary Fellows out of a pool of 21 applicants.
  • Ethics: The committee chaired by Lynn Walsh has created a 45-minute presentation that can be shared with non-journalists. Once again, SPJ’s Ethics Week was promoted on the Reuters billboard in Times Square.
  • Generation-J Committee: Tess Fox revived the committee, which has decided to focus on two projects going forward: a student chapter guidebook and a mentorship program.
  • Education Committee: Under the leadership of co-chairs Rebecca Tallent and Leticia Steffen, the successful #Press4Education program continues to grow, matching 186 volunteers with teachers to date.
  • Legal Defense Fund Committee: The committee, chaired by Hagit Limor, acted on more than 55 cases and resurrected the silent and live auctions.
  • Freelance Community: The community, chaired by Hilary Niles, continues to grow, primarily through Facebook and Twitter, and is seeking greater awareness within SPJ.
  • International Community: The community, which is led by co-chairs Elle Toussi and Dan Kubiske, has forged new partnerships with One Free Press Coaliton and the International Senior Lawyers Project.

Meanwhile, the national board has begun some painstaking and important transitional work, some of which will continue into the new term.

  • Policy Review Task Force: The task force, chaired by Matt Hall, conducted a thorough inventory and review of national board policies.
  • Strategic Planning Task Force: The task force, chaired by Victor Hernandez, initiated work on the first strategic plan since 2006, an objective that our executive search consultants advise us would be best to attain sooner rather than later, with the involvement of our new full-time executive director.
  • Executive Director Search Committee: The SPJ board unanimously decided to go forward with a professional search firm, rather than to lead the search process itself, as SPJ has done in the past. Search Committee Chair Hagit Limor is the point of contact for the consultants. The board policy review and the drafting of a strategic plan are integral to this search, as many qualified applicants would view the lack of strong policies or planning as a negative.
  • The 110th Anniversary Task Force: On a lighter note, this task force chaired by Yvette Walker has generated some fun ideas, such as a Spotify list of songs about news.

Furthermore, despite the high turnover at HQ in the first half of the 2018-2019 term, I was determined not to drop the ball on the key goals I had set when I ran for this office two years ago—improving diversity at all levels of the Society, while increasing our press freedom advocacy and forging new partnerships. Some highlights of these goals:

  • We obtained a generous $25,000 grant from the Craig Newmark Philanthropies to hold a journalism nonprofit summit ahead of World Press Freedom Day. Held over two days in New York, 82 people from more than 30 press freedom groups attended the summit and helped craft a joint resolution.
  • On World Press Freedom Day, May 3, I spoke on a panel at the United Nations before an audience of 400 to discuss the SPJ journalism nonprofit summit the week before, which had focused on threats to journalism and democracy in a time of disinformation.
  • Bryan Carmody, the San Francisco journalist whose home was raided by the police in search of clues to a confidential police source, spoke for the first time publicly about the case at an event that I moderated, which was hosted by the SPJ NorCal Pro chapter at the Medill School in downtown San Francisco. This was an example of a successful collaboration between SPJ local and national leaders and our partners.
  • I served as a drafting committee member in the Journalism Trust Initiative, a project of the Reporters Without Borders/Reporters sans frontières (RSF).
  • Along the way, key SPJ leaders—including Rod Hicks, Lynn Walsh, Paul Fletcher, Danielle McLean and myself—have issued a steady stream of advocacy statements and media interviews. See Addendum A.

 

INTERIM EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR’S REPORT

On May 13, two weeks after the departure of the SPJ executive director, the executive committee of the SPJ national board and the top two officers of the SPJ Foundation held a conference call to determine what to do while SPJ searched for a permanent executive director. The President-Elect had done research on hiring an interim executive director. However, the leaders from both boards on the May 13 call determined that SPJ could not afford to take this step, so they asked for a report focused on having the SPJ President continue as acting interim while hiring business consultants to do two things: search for a full-time executive director and draft an on-site managerial assessment of headquarters to inform this search and help guide the next full-time executive director.

I prepared this report based on advice from SPJ Legal Counsel Mark Bailen and numerous interviews with executive consultants. The report was unanimously approved in a meeting of the full SPJ national board on June 1. SPJ Foundation President Irwin Gratz also approved this report, which detailed a financial analysis by SPJ Controller Jake Koenig that showed the cost of hiring a consultant for both the executive search and the on-site assessment would largely be offset by not paying for an interim executive director. A public version of the report, which excluded just the private bids and financial analysis, was shared with SPJ members via the Freedom of the Prez blog on June 5. See Addendum B, or this link:

https://blogs.spjnetwork.org/president/2019/06/05/executive-director-transition-plan/

The staff has performed heroically over the past four months, despite the lack of a permanent executive director on site. After a year of intense turnover in Indianapolis through April, we’ve had no staff departures other than the communications employee who left to get married and move out of state, which had been expected. Meanwhile, we have added three new employees since April, Zoë Berg and Ashlynn Neumeyer, two communications interns, and Kathy Parker, a full-time accountant.

The staff, both old and new hires, have bonded together as a team and their positive attitude has ensured the smooth execution of the SDX banquet in June and the Excellence in Journalism Conference. We are expecting about 1800 attendees in San Antonio, about the same as the last time we had all three conference organizers in 2017. Additionally, we’ve brought back some of the cherished traditions that we had to forego last year because of the staff turnover at that time, such as the Legal Defense Fund auction and the Pro Chapter Leaders meeting. The staff has also negotiated new agreements with some of our existing partners, without losing a single partner despite being in a transitional period.

Here are some top-level highlights of the staff’s recent accomplishments:

  • EIJ is expected to have 1800 attendees, more than 70 sessions, and 92 exhibit booths. Key events that have been arranged by the staff include breakout sessions, super sessions, the J-Expo, opening night reception, President’s Installation Banquet and reception, Scripps reception, Student Union, donor reception, LDF auction, three board meetings, 10 committee meetings, 9 Regional meetings, Freelance Corner meetings, EIJ News, 110th committee table and SPJ tee-shirt sales.
  • The Knight Foundation approved a $45,000 ($15,000 per year over three years) grant to support the Excellence in Journalism Conference.
  • More than 70 awards were presented, and we had 170 guests at the SDX banquet on June 21 at the National Press Club, which ran like clockwork, despite the fact that many of the new staff were working the banquet for the first time.
  • The Communications team managed by Jennifer Royer issued around 20 advocacy statements on press freedom issues.  (See an advocacy list as an addendum to this report.)
  • The Quill magazine redesign is going well under new editor Lou Harry. Quillmag.com had its highest monthly views ever in June with 6695 hits.
  • Rod Hicks wrapped up the SPJ Foundation-funded Casper Project with a well-attended public forum in Casper Wyoming, where Irwin and I both gave brief introductory remarks.
  • Caroline Escobar managed a summer membership drive amid EIJ preparations that resulted in a 47% increase in new members and twice as many renewing members compared to the same period last year.
  • At the April mid-year board meeting, the SPJ board decided to move the 2021 conference to New Orleans. Basharat Saleem negotiated a new contract with the Hyatt Regency New Orleans. The room rate will be $149 (compared with a $198 four-year average) with a total of 1193 hotel rooms.
  • In addition to the usual graphics and website updates by Tony Peterson and Billy O’Keefe, both worked on special projects this year:  to include the World Press Freedom Day Summit;  the redesign of the SPJ Foundation logo and branding, due to the name change;  and the 110th Anniversary celebration, which required the logo, pin, ads, thank you cards, Quill addition, conference ribbon and step and repeat banner.
  • SPJ is to provide complete event support for the JAWS CAMP in late September, with Basharat and Matt Kent from the staff to be on site.
  • The Google program, now managed by Lou, is on track. So far in 2019, 2562 journalists have been trained through the SPJ Google Tools training program and it is closing in on the projected total of 4000 for the year.
  • Facebook agreed to provide further funding to carry their Journalism project, managed by Lynn Walsh, through to the end of 2019. Since the program was launched in March 2018, SPJ and Facebook have led more than 150 trainings in newsrooms, classrooms and at conferences in Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C. and 41 of the 50 states. To date, the program has trained more than 4,000 journalists and counting.
  • Controller Jake Koenig hired a full-time accountant, which I approved during my first trip to Indianapolis as acting interim executive director, based on his identifying understaffing as the reason for slow financial reporting. Jake and Kathy, the new full-time accountant, and Toni Sculky, the part-time accountant, are now working together to bring reporting up to date.
  • Despite all the hard work and many distractions, both the staff and volunteers found time to plan for and celebrate SPJ’s 110th Anniversary, which culminated in a ceremony organized by Larry Messing at DePauw University just steps from the spot where SPJ was founded.
  • Last but certainly by no means least, none of this would have been possible, throughout this demanding interim period, without the stalwart Linda Hall keeping the staff on track. It is hardly surprising that they refer to her as their “den mother.”

In closing, amid the current climate of uncertainty for our profession, we, nevertheless, have ample reasons to look optimistically towards SPJ’s future. Our mission to educate the current and future generations of journalists, while defending journalism ethics and advocating for open government and press freedom, has never been more relevant and worthwhile. I’d like to end by saying it has been a privilege to pilot SPJ through this challenging transitional period. It is my fervent hope that the swift resolution of the executive director search and the realization of the strategic plan will steer this organization, which has meant so much to me in the 12 years that I have served it as a volunteer, into a brighter tomorrow.

—30—

Witnessing the testimony of Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancée

Seven months after Jamal Khashoggi was brutally slain inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, his fiancée traveled to the United States for the first time to testify before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee for Human Rights.

 

Hatice Cengiz, center, ahead of testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Human Rights. Also pictured are Joel Simon, executive director of Committee to Protect Journalists, Sarah Repucci, senior director of Freedom House, and Gulchehra Hoja, a Uighar reporter for Radio Free Asia.

 

At this May 16 hearing, Hatice Cengiz called on the United States to pressure Saudi Arabia to investigate the case and bring the perpetrators to justice. As Congressmembers pointed out during the testimony, the Central Intelligence Agency has concluded with “high confidence” that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman ordered the killing.

In emotional testimony, Cengiz called on Congressmembers to live up to the country’s historical role as a model of press freedom and to pressure Saudi Arabia to hold the perpetrators accountable.

“I cannot understand that the world has not done anything about this,” she said through a Turkish translator. “We still don’t know why he was killed. We don’t know where his corpse is.”

She described how the late Washington Post columnist would tell her about the beauty of Washington, D.C., saying she would not miss Turkey when they moved there after their wedding. Cengiz was the last person to see Khashoggi before he entered the Saudi consulate to get paperwork required for their marriage.

Cengiz described Khashoggi’s admiration for the American values of freedom of expression.

“The reason why Jamal came to the U.S. was because people like him were in jail in Saudi Arabia, and here he could be their voice,” she said. “It wasn’t only Jamal who was killed, it was the American values we are discussing here today.”

 

Representative Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chair of the House Intelligence Committee and co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Freedom of the Press Caucus. We discussed press freedom after the testimony.

 

I traveled to Washington, D.C. this week to watch the two-hour testimony about the dangers of reporting on human rights. The high-level session also included Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Sarah Repucci, senior director of Freedom House, and Gulchehra Hoja, a Uighar reporter for Radio Free Asia.

The Society of Professional Journalists has joined press freedom groups from around the world in pressuring Washington, and in particular, the Trump administration, to demand that the perpetrators be brought to justice. In October 2018, I wrote an open letter to the White House on behalf of SPJ urging it to insist on a full and transparent independent investigation.

The world, and Cengiz, are still waiting.

–30–

Speech at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on World Press Freedom Day

These remarks were delivered at the start of a panel at the United Nations on World Press Freedom Day, May 3, 2019. Watch the panel. My remarks begin at the 1:20 mark.

This followed the Society of Professional Journalists media nonprofit summit a week earlier, known as Quo Vadis Democracy in an Age of Digital Disinformation.

 

Pictured from left to right, Ricardo de Guimarães Pinto, liaison officer for the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Warren Hogue, senior adviser for external relations at the International Peace Institute and a former New York Times foreign correspondent, Meredith Broussard, associate director of the Arthur Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, Moderator Emanuele Sapienza, global policy specialist for civil engagement at the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support at the United Nations Development Program, Stephen Adler, Editor-in-Chief of Thomson Reuters, and me.

 

Remarks at the United Nations on May 3, 2019

Thank you, Maher, and I’d like to extend my especial thanks to Ricardo for giving me this awesome privilege to represent my organization, the Society of Professional Journalists, here at the United Nations. It is an honor to be able to speak alongside such highly esteemed journalists. I had to pinch myself to make certain that I am actually speaking between Stephen Adler and Warren Hogue.

I also want to thank UNESCO for weaving together press freedom and electoral integrity into a timely theme for this year’s World Press Freedom Day.

Although this is a global event addressing the challenges that disinformation poses to the core democratic values of press freedom and electoral transparency, an issue that has emerged again and again, from Brazil to India, it strikes me as appropriate that we’re meeting today here in New York.

The 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, which concluded with an all New Yorker finale, put the institutions that defend democracies worldwide on high alert.

To be sure, there was already no shortage of electoral threats, from unintentionally flawed ballots – think of the hand recount in Florida in 2000 – to outright forms of coercion.

Likewise, on the many long campaign trails, not a few politicians over the years have repeated half-truths and outright falsehoods in the hope that the election may be won by the time their deceptive campaign messages were debunked.

But in 2016, we woke up to the reality that freedom of expression itself had been weaponized.

The enemies of strong democratic values had learned a new trick. They had turned the power of self-expression on social media platforms — which only five years earlier had helped unleash the natural desire for self-determination in the Arab Spring — into a cloaking device that allowed them to wage a surreptitious influence campaign.

Social media bots generated by troll farms; deceptive political banner ads; and spear-phishing computer hacks coupled with selective leaks became low-cost, highly effective disinformation tools requiring little technological know-how.

Over the last two years, the major platforms have retaliated by employing internal checks, automated by algorithms, alongside small armies of human content moderators to try to combat the malicious trolls spreading deliberate disinformation. However, we know very little about these defensive maneuvers because the platforms are controlled by private companies not subject to the strictures of public entities obeying guidelines of transparency and accountability.

The organization that I represent, the Society of Professional Journalists, held a summit last weekend to discuss this nefarious synergy between anti-democratic forces and digital disinformation. More than 30 press freedom groups convened in New York to hear experts on cyber security and digital disinformation dissect what had happened in 2016, much of which has now been verified by the Mueller report, and more terrifyingly, what might occur as the opponents of democracy become more technologically sophisticated.

For example, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, described how hackers might in the future break into electoral systems to alter the voting rolls in such a subtle manner that voters may not realize why they are being turned away at the polls. She pointed to a line in the Mueller report briefly mentioning that the electoral systems in Florida were breached in the 2016 election.

Of course, this scenario involves a higher degree of technological sophistication than Internet trolling and goes well beyond the type of online misinformation that the press can correct in real time. Government agencies and cyber security consultants will need to ensure that electoral systems are protected against such cyber threats and this seems to have been the case in the 2018 congressional elections. But henceforward journalists covering elections will need to be more vigilant, and particularly more tech savvy, than ever before in order to observe potential voting system threats and by doing so preserve the democratic process.

Deliberate disinformation, on the other hand, whether spread by state or non-state actors with the intent of skewing an election, may have an even more insidious purpose. Another one of our summit speakers, Laura Rosenberger, now the director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States’ Alliance for Securing Democracy, was the foreign policy adviser for Hilary Clinton’s campaign. She pointed out that when the trolls began to operate, there was no emergent Republican candidate. The real goal, she asserted, was undermining public faith in democratic institutions.

At this time, we’re being asked to put our faith in algorithms to solve this crisis. These same algorithms failed to block one in five of the videos of the mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand in March. The numbers are staggering. Users tried to upload one and a half million videos after the shooter livestreamed his attack. Although most were blocked before they could be uploaded, some 300,000 of these videos got through this cyber security net.

Another serious concern is the increasing sophistication of so-called “deep fakes,” digital audio, video and still images that are hyper-realistic forgeries that blur the lines between fact and fiction.

This battle against disinformation and deep fakes is likely to rage for some time, as each defensive measure is countered by new technological advances on the other side, making it akin to an arms race we’re already only too familiar with.

As someone who represents other journalists, I ask what measures can journalists effectively take to counter this potential tsunami of digital disinformation as elections come into the forefront of the news?

Firstly, more than a dozen of the press groups that gathered for last weekend’s summit drafted a resolution to reaffirm our role as watchdogs. This may sound an obvious statement on World Press Freedom Day, but we must recommit ourselves to presenting the public with the factual information that it needs to make sound decisions on vital questions, to include electoral decisions.

However, in order for citizens to be well informed, journalists must be free to do their jobs without fear of reprisal, intimidation or threat of physical harm. This is a tall order. We were honored to have Maria Ressa at our summit, where she eloquently advocated for the rights of a free unhindered press before leaving for the Philippines, Duterte and her destiny. She reminded the room full of journalists who are relatively safe within the borders of the United States that staying free sometimes takes genuine courage.

Secondly, our summit resolution encourages journalists to invite the public to become our allies in this fight. We urge the public to help journalists correct mistakes and counter misinformation they find online, whether that information appears to be malicious or simply mistaken.

Finally, we should all hold governments and private platforms to account, pushing them to develop technological and regulatory solutions, but at the same time making sure their actions are more transparent and they remain engaged with the public so that our right to freedom of speech and association are not infringed upon without the people’s consent.

Together, we must tackle this threat to our democracies pro-actively and with the optimism that we can preserve our dearly won freedoms. Journalists here in the United States can be encouraged that our Congressmembers recently submitted a resolution expressing their sense of the, quote: “importance of local print and digital journalism to the continued welfare, transparency, and prosperity of government at every level and the continuation and freedom of the United States as it is known today.”

This is a global problem, and U.S. Congressmembers introduced several bipartisan bills this term recognizing that. For example, The Global Electoral Exchange Act would promote the exchange of electoral best practices internationally, particularly in the areas of cyber security and data transmission.

In conclusion, democracies have collectively tackled worse foes. Arguably, the democratic world faced a far greater threat from fascism in the 1930s and ‘40s. Out of that global conflict emerged the intergovernmental institutions such as the UN, and high moral standards such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This challenge may require a similar collaborative effort to stand against the forces of disinformation.

Thank you.

–30–

Speech in Seoul about the role of journalists in peace negotiations

Note: At the start of my term, I vowed to post the significant speeches that I made in this space. Well, it’s been a busy couple of months so I am getting caught up. Here’s the remarks that I made at the World Journalists Conference in Seoul, South Korea, on Monday, March 25, 2019. The theme of the conference was Role of the Press for Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and World Peace.

 

 

A Free Press Lights the Way Forward

As the President of the Society of Professional Journalists in the United States, I am honored to speak to such a distinguished gathering of global journalists. We meet here at a pivotal moment on the Korean peninsula.

Many of you are visiting South Korea for the first time. Those of you who were here at the World Journalists Conference last year will remember the hopeful political climate. We met a week after South and North Korean athletes marched arm-in-arm into the stadium of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games.

That was such a surprising sight after a nerve-wracking period of North Korean missile and bomb tests, which began with the North conducting its first intercontinental ballistic missile test on July 4, 2017, provocatively the same day as the United States celebrated its national Independence Day. Yet more ICBM launches followed, and most alarmingly, the country’s sixth, and most powerful nuclear test, which it claimed was a hydrogen bomb.

Amid those fearful developments, bellicose taunts were exchanged between the leaders of North Korea and the United States. Who can forget U.S. President Donald Trump calling Kim Jong-Un “little rocket man,” or Kim denouncing him as a “dotard?” Nevertheless, the world was forced to sit up, it could hardly do otherwise, because even though this name-calling was school boyish, the words were backed by nuclear arsenals. Then, just as startling, we journalists from around the world, gathered here last February, heard the announcement that the U.S. president had agreed to a bilateral summit with the North Korean leader. All this augured well for a step forward toward world peace.

Since then, for the past year, close observers of events related to the Korean peninsula have been witnesses to a five-act drama. In the first act, the global press speculated about where, when, and even if, the two men would meet. Then the world was mesmerized by the theatricality of the Singapore summit, which turned more on the personal chemistry of the principals than on the preparations of professional diplomats. In the months of uncertainty following the initial summit, which did not produce much in terms of concrete results, questions emerged about the utility of bilateral negotiations at the highest level. Then came the disappointment of the Hanoi summit, which ended prematurely, without a formal declaration. Finally, satellite images pointed to the rebuilding of test facilities in the North.

As this story played out, journalists have been there every step of the way, documenting not only the words of the principal protagonists, but also the insights of political operatives and policy experts, the history of the Korean peninsula, and public reactions to the high-stakes nuclear negotiations. In short, they have not stinted to report on the hope, the danger, and yes, the occasional absurdity of the situation.

In monitoring these unfolding momentous events it has been refreshing and an inspiration to note how press freedom has improved by leaps and bounds here in South Korea. While you tour the country this week, as I did last year, you’ll see dozens of national and regional newspapers on newsstands. The current government can rightfully boast that it healed a longstanding rift at the public broadcasters, and the country jumped ahead 20 places in the Reporters Without Borders 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

This renaissance of the free press here, part of a broader trend of growing freedoms in the country since the late 20th century, goes hand-in-glove with the culture of innovation and progress. In the span of a few generations, South Korea has evolved from a poverty-stricken, war-torn land to one of the wealthiest and most vibrant of the global economies, and we Americans are proud to call South Korea our ally — one of our most stalwart.

From the standpoint of the organization I represent, the Society of Professional Journalists, a free press is like a beacon that, by radiating the light of truth outward, helps expose to the public gaze even the most sophisticated subterfuges. By contrast, limiting the coverage of negative outcomes darkens the way forward.

Of course, when we talk about concepts such as press freedom and impartiality, we are discussing ideals. These are goals that we, as journalists, must constantly strive toward, rather than destinations to attain. In some countries, there are still many roadblocks along the way. Without a strong judicial framework protecting the free flow of information, governments can cut off access to news outlets and journalists may work at their own peril. In such difficult cases, we need not only journalists dedicated to the highest ethical standards of the profession, but also a legal community in support of freedom of information and of the press.

Journalists are widely perceived as the eyes and ears of the public. They are not diplomats. They do not represent their government, nor do they speak for special interests, such as political parties or social groups with which they may privately identify. When events take a turn for the worse, when summits collapse without results, when there is evidence of retrenchment, they must focus on the events as they unfold.

To be sure, there is more than simply firsthand reporting; there is a legitimate role for opinion journalism. This goal of denuclearization warrants plenty of opinion pieces, but they should be clearly indicated as such. That permits readers and viewers to understand that the selection of facts has been guided by the desire to validate an opinion.

But reporters writing the first draft of history — particularly those covering crucial events such as nuclear disarmament negotiations that so profoundly influence world peace — should render a full and impartial account of events. It is especially important that a free press functioning in an open society behaves responsibly by focusing on the legitimate security concerns of each side; but it should not omit to report on troubling developments. Journalists must report what is done, what is said, and whenever possible, what is unsaid.

To obtain the fullest possible picture of key events like the summits with North Korea, it is important to cover the public reaction. After the Hanoi summit, the Washington Post published an account of the disappointment felt by many South Koreans. One South Korean expert described his fellow citizens as “heartbroken.” A free press provides an impartial chronicle, and in this case, informed Americans of the sentiments of their allies halfway around the world.

With such high stakes, the public has a right to as complete and realistic an account of events as possible. As the Washington Post’s own logo proclaims, “Democracy dies in darkness.” When reporting on nuclear negotiations, this adage may be taken literally as well as figuratively.

A story of the scope and potential impact of the nuclear negotiations on the Korean peninsula is, naturally, of interest in every country around the world. You’ll each produce stories during your time here for your compatriots back home. The greatest contribution that we, as journalists, can make to peace on the Korean peninsula is to report back honestly and fully what we see here.

Thank you.

–30–

 

 

Sunshine Week begins early this year

Today marks the beginning of Sunshine Week, an annual rite of spring for media nonprofits. As the days lengthen, we are reminded that the framers of our constitution, among them James Madison, had a vision of government transparency that was a radical break from the world they were born into. Madison, a consummate publicist in an era before his name became associated with that art, first tried to sell the public on the need for federalism in the Federalist Papers. When the Constitution continued to encounter opposition, he proposed the articles that came to be known as the “Bill of Rights.”

Sunshine Week was created by our friends at the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) to coincide with Madison’s birthday on March 16. Since the first Sunshine Week in 2005, the annual celebration of open government has grown to include many partners. The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) is proud to count ourselves among them.

In advance of Sunshine Week, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to do some lobbying on Capitol Hill with our friends in the News Media for Open Government, an alliance of news media and journalism organizations that includes SPJ. I joined with alliance members from ASNE, RCFP, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, the National Newspaper Association and the News Media Alliance.

Together, we met on Monday with legislative aides for Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, and Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, who both serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

We discussed the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) portal, the signature achievement of our media coalition: the #FixFOIAby50 campaign. This campaign successfully sought to modernize this crucial tool of government transparency by FOIA’s 50th anniversary on July 4, 2016. The passage of this legislation created a unified portal to act as a clearing house for FOIA requests to government agencies. Now, our goal is to push for the improvement of the portal so that requests are smoothly handled and more swiftly fulfilled. In particular, we want documents that are repeatedly requested to be made public.

We also talked about the Journalist Protection Act, a much-needed new law that would help safeguard the act of newsgathering. This failed to win passage in the last Congressional session, and it is one of our coalition’s top priorities for the current session.

The Journalist Protection Act would amend the federal penal code to make it a crime to assault a journalist on the job. It would punish an individual who knowingly injures a journalist with the intention of intimidation or to impede the act of newsgathering.

Sadly, this law has become necessary in the hostile climate for American reporters that has evolved since the 2016 election. Congressmembers of both houses began talking about reintroducing this legislation in February, after a Trump supporter violently shoved a BBC cameraman filming President Donald Trump giving a speech at a rally in El Paso, Texas.

“This is what happens when a President calls a #FreePress the ‘enemy of the people’ and whips his rallies into a frenzy. Assaults must not be tolerated, and I look forward to re-introducing the #JournalistProtectionAct along with @SenBlumenthal,” California Democratic Congressmember Eric Swalwell wrote on Twitter at the time.

Likewise, we at SPJ, and the other members of the News Media for Open Government, look forward to advocating for this legislation during the 116th U.S. Congress.

World Press Freedom Day

The following day, I went on my own to meet with legislative aides on the other side of the Capitol Building, in the offices of Congressmembers Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, and Steve Chabot, an Ohio Republican.

I had met with both Congressional aides previously in September. Their bosses co-chair the Congressional Freedom of the Press Caucus, which focuses exclusively on threats to press freedom outside of the United States.

Among the occasional statements made by the caucus is an annual resolution in support of the United Nations World Press Freedom Day, marked each year on May 3. This year, we at SPJ plan to celebrate World Press Freedom Day in a big way. (For more about those plans soon, keep an eye on Freedom of the Prez.)

On Tuesday, we chatted about the greatest risks to global press freedom and the need to advocate for journalist safety overseas. Earlier this year, the caucus held a meeting in D.C. spotlighting their demand for a thorough investigation into the death of Saudi Arabian journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. SPJ will watch for future caucus events and share them with you on our social media.

After these meetings, it was on to the National Press Club, where I met with the newly-installed president, Alison Kodjak. In her day job, she’s an NPR health policy correspondent.

We talked about the Club’s plans for a Night Out for Austin Tice on May 2, a day before World Press Freedom Day, in order to raise awareness about the only American journalist currently being held hostage overseas. Participating restaurants have pledged to donate a portion of their proceeds that evening to a fund that will add to a $1 million reward established by the Federal Bureau of Investigations for information leading to the safe return of Austin Tice.

Tice, an award-winning freelance journalist and veteran U.S. Marine Corps officer, was abducted while covering the civil war in Syria in 2012. Kodjak said one of the most important aspects of the May 2 event is to raise awareness about his captivity.

At the start of Sunshine Week, it’s important to remember the many ways we can advocate for press freedom — whether by striving to improve upon our federal and state freedom of information laws, to protect the act of newsgathering, or to raise awareness of the efforts to intimidate or impede journalists at home or abroad. Pick your cause, then go forth and fight for it.

— 30 —

Giving the thumbs up to Reuters’ jailed journalists

Giving the thumbs-up gesture in solidarity with Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, jailed in Myanmar one year ago today.

Dec. 12 marks the disgraceful anniversary of the detention of two courageous Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. And if the authorities in Myanmar have their way, they will spend the next six years in jail.

A “thumbs-up” gesture has become a global symbol of solidarity with the pair of Reuters reporters, so today, photos of believers in press freedom giving the familiar gesture along with the hashtag #FreeWaLoneandKyawSoeOo have been circulating on social media.

The journalists were detained last year after reporting on a massacre of Rohingya in a broader effort by the government to suppress the minority group that the United Nations has called a genocide. The result of their reporting: a chilling story filed in February, Massacre in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace prize-winning leader of the country, has not used her position to defend or pardon the jailed journalists.

The Society of Professional Journalists has advocated on behalf of these brave Reuters reporters, as well as the other journalists who made the four covers of TIME Magazine’s “person of the year.” We sent a letter to the White House demanding that it push for an independent investigation into the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. We released a statement last week urging the Philippine government to drop the politically-motivated charges against news website Rappler and its CEO Maria Ressa. And we held a forum about the attack on the Capital Gazette at our annual conference in Baltimore in September.

We will keep advocating on behalf of these courageous journalists until the last one is freed or vindicated.

–30–

 

 

 

 

 

#TruthNeverDies

UN Marks Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists With a Look Back at the Life of Chris Hondros

 

Chris Hondros was a stranger to fear. In the opening scene of a documentary about the award-winning conflict photographer, he takes a cellphone call amid crossfire in Monrovia, Liberia. At this point in the film, the audience doesn’t see Hondros. We hear his off-screen voice calmly explain that “things are fine” to the caller, who must surely have heard the hail of bullets. He ends the conversation quickly by saying “give me a call back in about half an hour.”

The Getty Images photojournalist covered nearly every major global conflict beginning with the war in Kosovo in 1999. He went on to cover Iraq, Pakistan and the Arab Spring — until his luck ran out when he was killed by a mortar attack in Libya in April 2011.

A recent documentary directed by his childhood friend Greg Campbell portrays the American photojournalist’s courage and passion for his calling. In an early clip, a teenage Hondros is greeted by scoffs when he tells the other boys sitting around a table that he really isn’t afraid of anything. The rest of the film goes on to prove this wasn’t an empty boast.

The feature-length film, titled simply ‘Hondros,’ (now streaming on Netflix), was screened at the United Nations headquarters in New York today. The audience included diplomats, journalists and the film’s executive producer, Riva Marker, who said the production company she co-founded with American actor Jake Gyllenhaal, Nine Stories Productions, which is better known for fictional films, made this documentary because of the strength of the childhood friendship between the filmmaker and the photojournalist.

The occasion marked the fifth anniversary of the UN’s International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.

The UN created this global event in late 2013 to raise awareness about the impunity with which journalists around the world are being killed, imprisoned or silenced. Today’s date was chosen in memory of Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, two French journalists murdered in Mali on Nov. 2, 2013.

 

Here I am posing in front of the United Nations headquarters with the hashtag of the day: #TruthNeverDies.

 

Today, the UN unveiled a new awareness campaign to draw attention to this issue with the tagline #TruthNeverDies. UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced the campaign in videotaped remarks shown at the event.

“In just over a decade, more than 1,000 journalists have been killed while carrying out their indispensable work. Nine out of ten cases are unresolved, with no one held accountable,” the secretary-general said. “This year alone, at least 88 journalists have been killed. Many thousands have been attacked, harassed, detained or imprisoned on spurious charges without due process. And this is outrageous. This should not become the new normal.”

He went on to express how deeply troubled he was by the growing number of attacks against journalists and the culture of impunity, while calling on governments and the international community to protect journalists and create the conditions they need to do their work.

Today was also a reminder that the recent brutal killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was hardly an anomaly. It is a method of repressing free speech that is becoming all too common.

UNESCO publishes its findings related to the safety of journalists in the World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development: 2017/18 Global Report

Facts and Figures for 2006 – 2017 include:

  • 1010 killings of journalists have been condemned by UNESCO Director-General in the last 12 years.
  • Nine out of ten cases of killed journalists remain unresolved.
  • 93% of killed journalists are local and only 7% are foreign correspondents.
  • Journalist killing per region: 33.5% in the Arab Region. 26% in Asia & Pacific. 22.9% in Latin America and the Caribbean. 11.6% in Africa. 4% in Central & Eastern Europe. 2.5% in Western Europe and North America.

 

SPJ demands Khashoggi’s killers be brought to justice

We call on Trump to push for independent investigation in a letter to White House

Editor’s note: Shortly after this letter was mailed and sent electronically to the White House, Saudi Arabia confirmed the death of the missing journalist. The Society of Professional Journalists still calls for a full and transparent independent investigation that leads to the arrests of the perpetrators of this crime.

 

October 19, 2018

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to you today on behalf of the Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism organization, to express our deep concern over the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as your ongoing rhetoric attacking press freedom, a crucial pillar of our democracy.

While our organization takes no political party stance, like all free speech groups we are partisan on the issue of press freedom and the other rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which you have sworn to uphold.

Today, we implore you to lay aside political rhetoric and stand up for press freedom worldwide. As President of the United States, a position long viewed as the leader of the free world, we urge you to insist on a full and transparent independent investigation into the disappearance and alleged extrajudicial killing of Mr. Khashoggi. That would send a strong message to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — where journalists critical of the royal family have been jailed — that attacking, jailing and murdering journalists is an affront to the people’s right to know and the people’s right to participate in the democratic process.

That message, Mr. President, must be followed by a sincere commitment on your part to condemn those who would seek to weaken our democracy by silencing a free press. We were extremely disappointed by your apparent praise of Congressman Greg Gianforte’s assault on a reporter who asked him a question — behavior for which the congressman himself has publicly apologized. Assaulting or otherwise threatening a journalist is not macho behavior to be commended at a campaign stop. It signals a cynical disregard for the safety of journalists to repressive political leaders around the world.

Now it is time to take a stand for global press freedom. We expect you as our President to remind Saudi Arabia that there are grave consequences for an ally of the United States if it takes, as alleged, the unconscionable step of silencing a journalist by premeditated ambush, torture and murder.

Respectfully,
J. Alex Tarquinio
President
Society of Professional Journalists

There is no democracy without a free press

Today, hundreds of newspapers across the country are publishing editorials to fight back against repeated attacks on the media. The brainchild of The Boston Globe, newspapers were asked to publish their own editorials that highlight the dangers of the assault on the press.

The Society of Professional Journalists stands in solidarity with these newspapers and applauds their efforts to explain the importance of the work they do every day. We know that without them, the country would be a much darker, more secretive place.

After all, it’s journalists who uncover stories of children being abused by people in positions of authority; of drinking water being contaminated because regulations and laws weren’t followed; of the misuse of money and power by government officials and agencies.

Freedom of the press was included in the writing of the First Amendment for good reason. Our founding fathers knew that it is human nature for those in positions of power to sometimes abuse that power. For democracy to thrive, they believed it was important to ensure there would always be a watchdog – the press – to maintain balance and, when needed, protect citizens from their own government by helping them obtain information. (As the Washington Post tagline states: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”)

Journalism is a public service. Journalism is done for the public good. We’re taught as journalists to show the story, not tell the story. The best way to show the public that we are not “the enemy” is by telling accurate, fair, truthful stories. By showing that we care about the people and communities we cover. By acting ethically at all times.

But while a majority of journalists do just that, they remain at risk. According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, 27 journalists have been attacked so far in the United States in 2018. Worldwide, according to Reporters Without Borders, 50 journalists, 10 citizen journalists and 3 media assistants have been killed in 2018.

Journalists should not have to consider hiring security guards to accompany them to political rallies. Journalists in every city and town across America should not worry for their safety every time they go out to cover a story.

A segment of the American public is clearly angry about what they describe as “fake news” or too much opinion and not enough facts. Journalists don’t understand why the average citizen struggles to tell the differences among news, opinion, commentary and analysis, or to realize that not every journalist produces each kind of journalism.

The United Nations Human Rights Chief said earlier this week the numbers of incidences of violence and death against journalists will increase worldwide if the rhetoric does not stop. Other countries look to the United States to set the precedent, he said, adding that, “The U.S. creates a demonstration effect, which then is picked up by other countries where the leadership tends to be more authoritarian [in] character or aspires to be authoritarian.”

No profession is perfect. Journalism is no exception. But a United States without a free press is not a place most Americans would want to live. Simply put, there is no democracy without a free press.

Recent Attacks Against Journalists Are Attacks Against American Freedoms

In the last several weeks journalists have been pinned against a wall, arrested, assaulted, told to get “back in your cages,” and threatened with gun violence by a sitting state governor.

The key word left out of the sentence above: American.

Those incidents happened to American journalists. American journalists working and doing their jobs in the United States, a country that has a freedom designated for the press.

If you’ve read the headlines or followed the stories on social media, you may have seen the threat of gun violence called a joke, or the event that resulted in an assault charge for a newly elected Congressman, called inappropriate unless the reporter deserved it.

These incidents are not funny and should not be dismissed. The words being spoken are also not funny and they should not be treated as jokes.

These incidents are an attack against the freedoms America was founded on and should be taken seriously.

Most importantly they need to stop. 

In the United States, the First Amendment protects a free press. This includes protecting an individual’s right to ask questions of elected officials without the threat of violence. Journalists should not be arrested or physically harmed for simply trying to do their jobs. Journalists are the eyes and ears of the public. When they are prevented from doing their jobs, the public loses and American freedom is threatened.

The United States, whether data and reality always supports it or not, is often used as an example of a free society by others around the world. This includes evaluating what a free press looks like.

Around the world, we are seeing journalists killed or physically threatened while doing their jobs. These incidents also need to be stopped and should be taken seriously. It is also why it is even more important to push back and stop the incidents happening here.

What we allow to happen on U.S. soil could set the tone for what others experience and do elsewhere, outside our borders.

These recent incidents, that include physical violence, anti-press rhetoric, and legal action are steps away from freedom. They are incidents that should not be happening in a country that was founded on protecting freedom of the press. These incidents threaten American democracy.

Right now, there is undeniable tension between journalists, news organizations, and the public. Polls continue to show the American public’s trust in media is at an all-time low.

While there are examples of reporting and journalists that may have helped contribute to that, we, as Americans, both journalists, and non-journalists, need to work together to stop this threat against our freedom.

Do we want to live in a country where people are not free to ask politicians questions? A country where the information the public receives only comes from those in power? A country where you are not free to publish information people may disagree with?

I know that is not the America I want to live in. It is also not the America people have fought hard, in some cases sacrificing their lives, to protect.

In the name of freedom, let’s stand together.

SPJ and Journalism Organizations Respond To Election of Donald Trump

Last week, after the election, the Society of Professional Journalists and other journalism organizations released statements reinforcing their commitment to protecting the First Amendment and fighting for the public’s right to know.

Since the election SPJ has seen an increase in donations. Some, when donating, have specifically cited the election outcome.

I want you to know that SPJ is ready to defend the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment and push for government transparency.

We hope that you will continue to join us in this fight. If you have ideas or thoughts or want to help in any way, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me. Also, if you need help donating or renewing your membership, we would gladly help with that as well.

Here is a list of statements made by journalism organizations:

Lynn Walsh is the National President for the Society of Professional Journalists. In her day job she leads the NBC 7 Investigates team in San Diego, California. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for public information. Connect with her on Twitter, @LWalsh.

Baltimore Police Email Search Fee Hinders Public Access and Decreases Accountability

Baltimore Police Department

The Baltimore Police Department is charging $50 if a member of the public requests emails from the department, making public access to information and holding government officials more difficult.

MuckRock posted this earlier this week.

According to the policy, outlined in a response to MuckRock, the department says it will charge the $50 email search fee before it will begin to process the request. If the fee is paid, the search begins, a review cost is determined and if the cost and terms are “agreed upon” the $50 fee is deducted from the final cost. Click here or look below to read more about the policy.

While it is a nice gesture for them to deduct the search fee from the total cost, charging just to begin a search threatens the public’s right to information. Emails from public agencies and public employees should be released to the public without prohibitive fees. This information belongs to the public. Members of the public should not have to pay a search fee for it. Charging before the request is even processed is even more prohibitive and threatening to the public’s right to know.

An email to the Baltimore Police Department was not returned. It is also unclear as to when or why this policy was implemented. MuckRock estimates it was sometime in the last two months.

Whatever the reason, the policy is prohibitive and makes requesting emails more difficult for the public. Since the public has a right to this information, there should not be extra steps to jump over or extra fees to be paid in order to obtain it.

Fighting for access to information is something the Society of Professional Journalists takes seriously. If you have been hindered by Baltimore PD’s policy, please let me know: @LWalsh or lwalsh@spj.org

More from the policy:

If you are requesting e-mails correspondence the following is the procedure to request BPD e-mail.

Request for BPD emails are handled by the Information and Technology Section (I T). BPD emails are handled separately from the City of Baltimore emails. BPD emails have a limited retrieval time frame. The cost of in-house retrieval is based on the number of email that must be reviewed before being disclosed. Confidential opinions, deliberations, advice or recommendations from one governmental employee or official to another for the purpose of assisting the latter official in the decision-making function may be withheld. In addition, part of an interagency, or intra-agency letter or memorandum that would not be available by law to a private party in litigation can be withheld.

The BPD can run a word, name or phase through the email retention system. The BPD can run individual email addresses or the entire BPD email system. Once the system identifies the emails with the word, name or phase each email will have to be review to determine what can be disclosed and their relevancy.

The average staff time of review e-mails for release is approximately 150-200 pages reviewed per hour (e-mails and attachments). Time differs depending on the size or complexity of the e-mails. Once all disclosable emails are identified the BPD will advise of the actual cost of producing the e-mails. There is a minimum charge of $50.00 to start the search and downloading of e-mails. After the number of emails is determined you will be provided with the review cost. If the costs and terms are agreed upon emails will be reviewed. The $50.00 search fee will be deducted from the final cost.

Government Employees Don’t Get To Decide Which Journalists Cover Them

A former soccer coach is acquitted in a murder trial. The prosecutor in the case holds a news conference after the verdict. Three journalists covering the trial are excluded.

The dateline for this story isn’t somewhere overseas. It’s unfortunately in our own backyard, in upstate New York.

Last week, St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain barred The Watertown Daily Times reporter William Eckert and photographer Jason Hunter from a news conference after a not guilty verdict in the murder trial of Oral “Nick” Hillary.

Hillary was accused of stalking, strangling and killing 12-year-old Garrett Phillips. The trial has garnered media attention outside of New York, highlighted on national TV programs.

According to The Watertown Daily Times,  Rain excluded Eckert because she said he “‘is a dishonest reporter and I won’t have a dishonest reporter reporting to the community dishonestly.'” (Another journalist, Brit Hanson, was also blocked from the news conference but it has been reported that Rain said that happened in error.)

Click here to read Eckert explain how the events unfolded.

A photo of St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rains on the county website.

A photo of St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rains on the county website.

This is unacceptable and threatens the right of a free press. If government officials use their power to decide which journalists are granted access to public information, involving the public, on public property, it threatens our rights and freedom to speak freely, gather information freely and publish freely.

This goes beyond granting someone an exclusive or first interview. This was a news conference where only a few people were excluded and they were excluded because of a government leader’s opinion of them and their work.

The government does not get to decide who reports on and covers them. The public should be outraged that a public official is trying to block their right to public information by blocking access to those that may ask critical questions or hold officials accountable. Excluding certain members of the press from interviews and news conferences interferes with the public’s right to know.

I join and support the New York State Associated Press Association, a group of New York newspaper and broadcast journalists, in condemning Rain’s actions.

“…It is inappropriate for you to attempt to control information by giving personal invitations to only certain reporters based on your preference for favorable coverage, or to bar reporters whose coverage you dislike,” the association president Tracy Ormsbee said in the letter.

Click here to read the full letter.

A response from Rain was not immediately received but will be added if it is.

The Watertown Daily Times is protesting and demanding an apology from Rain.

Requesting Public Information Should Not Result in Felony Charges

Fannin-Focus publisher Mark Thomason spoke at the SPJ National Convention in New Orleans on Sept. 20. Outgoing national SPJ president Paul Fletcher (left). Photo by Curt Yeomans, SPJ Georgia board member

Fannin-Focus publisher Mark Thomason spoke at the SPJ National Convention in New Orleans on Sept. 20. Outgoing national SPJ president Paul Fletcher (left). Photo by Curt Yeomans, SPJ Georgia board member

Mark Thomason, publisher of the Fannin Focus newspaper in Blue Ridge, Georgia was arrested June 24 and charged with three felonies, including one for making a false statement on his open records request.

No journalist or member of the public should ever have to put up with what Thomason has when exercising his or her right to public information.

On the day of his arrest Thomason said he had no idea why he was arrested.

“For two days I sat in a jail cell without a pillow or blanket,” he said.

After his release on a $10,000 bond, Thomason said he faced unusual bond restrictions and was required to provide numerous on-the-spot urine samples for law enforcement in his hometown.

When the Georgia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists first heard of Thomason’s arrest, they began sharing their outrage with the public.  The chapter also filed a formal complaint to the Judicial Qualifications Commission against the judge, Brenda Weaver, Chief Superior Court Judge of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit, who had Thomason and his attorney arrested.

At it’s annual convention last month in New Orleans, SPJ’s members commended Thomason’s “relentless pursuit of the public’s right to know” in a freedom of information battle involving the actions of chief superior court judge.

Click here or watch below (jump to the 11 minute, 47 second mark of the video) to hear Thomason’s comments to SPJ members and journalists at the convention.

The SPJ membership also called for Judge Weaver to resign and thanked the SPJ Georgia chapter members for their hard work and due diligence bringing this issue into the public conversation.

What Thomason did, standing up for his right to public information, is something, I hope, no other individual, journalist or news organization has to experience. But, if you do find yourself in a similar situation, I want to know.

SPJ was founded to fight for these very issues. Whether that is your right to government access or recording video on a public sidewalk. We are here for you. Or maybe you find yourself being forced to tell a story or write something in a way that you feel is journalistically unethical. Please tell us, so we can help.

So, please contact me and let us know what we can do to help. We are here to help protect journalism and the public’s right to know.

Lynn Walsh is the current National President for SPJ. In her “day job” she manages and leads the NBC 7 Investigates team in San Diego. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for access to public information. Follow her on Twitter, @LWalsh, or contact her via email: Lynn.K.Walsh@gmail.com.

Only response to free-speech bullies: some muscle

In the cold, clear light of a second-day story, the words are still chilling:

“Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here!”

As most journalists in America now know, the woman who made that statement was Melissa Click, a communications professor at the University of Missouri, caught on a video that went viral.

The video, photographed by student Mark Schierbecker, documented, among other things, efforts by student photojournalist Tim Tai to cover student protesters at Mizzou; the video was shot after news that university system president Tim Wolfe had resigned. The journalists presumably were seeking comment and reaction to the resignation.

But come back to Click. She sought to shut down the student press in a way that was threatening. Some muscle? Really? Should Schierbecker have feared for his personal safety?

To their great credit, Schierbecker and Tai showed respect, resolution, calmness, professionalism and yes, courage, considering they were faced with an unhappy crowd chanting, “Hey hey ho ho, reporters have got to go!”

Click since has issued an apology for her actions, which Schierbecker said in a tweet that he did not accept. No doubt she is hoping that everyone, including the school she works for, will move on.

But should the rest of us let Click off easy? I don’t think so. There is a word for someone who treated the journalists the way she did: Bully.

She bullied Schierbecker, and the call for help to remove him forcibly is inexcusable and indefensible.

Since she was trying to shut down press coverage, call her a free speech bully, attempting to squelch a reporter.

Here is another reason not to let her off the hook: She’s not alone in higher education.

Within the past year, SPJ has tracked no fewer than six examples of journalism advisers at colleges across America who have run afoul of their schools’ leaders for (gasp!) encouraging student journalists to do their jobs and cover the school.

In each case, the administration would prefer that the student press run happy news, or perhaps recipes, instead of stories seeking to hold (often) public employees accountable.

In one of the adviser altercations, the school paper’s editor-in-chief provided his notes of his run-in with a high-level administrator. “Free speech bully” again would be the operative phrase. The encounter was intimidating and oppressive: the administrator was unhappy the paper had run articles about mold in university buildings.

Frank LoMonte runs the Student Press Law Center, and his job is to watch all this and to offer help and, if necessary, legal support.

In a Facebook post last weekend, LoMonte noted he had just returned from a visit to a public university where the student reporters are required to submit their interview questions for the university president in writing to a media-relations functionary.

This minion rewrites any questions that are unacceptably “negative” and sends back a script, to which the journalists are told to adhere under threat of unspecified reprisal, he said.

I asked him: At what university did this occur?

LoMonte demurred, citing the need to minimize harm (See SPJ Code of Ethics, section II). The students were so frightened that he would need to get their OK to out the school. I am not a fan of citing incidents without names, but I trust the source here.

It’s important to note that the people involved here are college kids, between ages 18 and 21. No doubt the students LoMonte dealt with are frightened.

All these incidents, showing a careless disregard for free speech and the free press, sound like something out of a tinpot dictatorship or some leftover totalitarian regime. Tendering questions for sanitation by a minion sounds like great job training for a position at George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth after graduation.

But these stories are happening at colleges in this country, one with a history and laws that protect free speech and a free press. These schools, if they bother to teach the Constitution, must be saying that it has only nine amendments…that first one got deleted somewhere along the way.

No student should face intimidation, threats of personal violence or reprisal – simply for doing his or her job as a journalist.

The only response, I think, to free speech bullies is some muscle.

Not sending goons out to do physical harm to anyone, but push-back. Exposure. Forceful calling out. Telling the tales. Litigation when needed. Financial support for those lawsuits. And a clear message that that is what they can expect.

Because when confronted, bullies fold and run.

Updated 2/8/16, to correct the spelling of Mark Schierbecker’s name.

Executive Committee Meeting Highlights

This week SPJ’s Executive Committee met in Washington, D.C. for its semiannual meeting on Sat., June 27. Here are highlights:

  • The Executive Committee approved minutes from its January 31 meeting in Orlando.
  • I gave updates to the president’s report. Board member Mike Reilley has agreed to lead a group of volunteers to provide staff with guidance for delegate training materials. I am working with the International Community to help with the leadership transition. Also, I met with Sonya Ross of the Associated Press on Friday. We discussed a number of possible partnerships on additional diversity initiatives.
  • SDX President Robert Leger provided us with an update on foundation business.
  • The Executive Committee approved the investment policy for the advocacy fund.
  • President-elect Paul Fletcher gave an update on the non-affiliated member representation task force. The group has had several calls. The next step is to send a survey to SPJ members who are not affiliated with a chapter.
  • Secretary-treasurer Lynn Walsh gave an update on a supporting membership program which would give non-members an opportunity to support SPJ’s mission. She has created a work group who has met by phone once already. She asked us to submit questions on what we’d want to know about such a program if we decide to create this support tier.
  • The Executive Committee approved a policy regarding the hiring and firing of the executive director. The policy will help protect SDX’s interests because the executive director will oversee more of the SDX operations with the shift in education and programming responsibilities from SPJ to SDX.
  • Membership strategist Tara Puckey provided a technology update. She and Billy O’Keefe went to Chicago last week for training. The behind-the-scenes work is still taking place, so changes won’t be outwardly noticeable for a while.
  • Executive Director Joe Skeel gave us an update on strategic partnership updates and how these partnerships impact staff. He gets regular inquiries and requests for proposals on SPJ’s administrative and “back office” support services. Joe also provided us with an update on EIJ18 and possible conference sites. One possible site in Baltimore is already booked for the time period we are considering, but it has offered us a proposal for EIJ19.
  • The Executive Committee entered executive session to select this year’s award winners in the following categories: D. L. Eshelman Outstanding Campus Adviser, Distinguished Teaching, Ethics, Historic Site, Howard S. Dubin Outstanding Pro Members, Julie Galvan Outstanding Graduate, Regional Director of the Year, Sunshine Awards, and the Wells Memorial Key.

If you have any questions about the meeting, please let me know. For copies of reports, meeting materials and a replay of the meeting’s live stream, click here.

 

Paul Fletcher: Execution process shouldn’t be secret

SPJ president-elect Paul Fletcher speaks out on "execution secrecy" in Virginia.

SPJ president-elect Paul Fletcher

SPJ president-elect Paul Fletcher has been following the Virginia legislature as it debates the merits of making the execution process more secretive in that state. Senate Bill 1393 was passed by the Senate, and is now being considered by the House of Delegates. Fletcher offers this editorial, originally posted on Virginia Lawyers Weekly where he is the publisher and editor-in-chief:

The Virginia House of Delegates will have the chance to cure a mistake by the Senate: The House can and should reject a bill that would shroud the Virginia execution process in secrecy and darkness.

Senate Bill 1393, filed by Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax, allows the state Department of Corrections to contract with any “external entity” to compound the drugs used for execution by lethal injection.

But a provision of this bill exempts the contracting process, the identity of any providers and the drug components used for execution from the Freedom of Information Act.

Saslaw told the Senate Courts of Justice Committee last week that the bill was prompted by difficulty getting the lethal drugs from overseas manufacturers. Virginia and other states that execute by lethal injection have faced shortages of the compounds needed to complete the process.

And manufacturers, which have been the targets of protests and pressure from anti-death penalty groups, apparently want the black-out. A Department of Corrections spokeswoman told The Washington Post that the measure would give drug manufacturers “security” from “harassment, threats or danger.”

Seems like there are less extreme ways to protect companies from protests than turning out the lights on the whole process.

If there is any solace to be taken, Saslaw’s original bill was worse – the whole process would have been secret. A condemned person, or his or her family, could not find out the details about the state-imposed death.  But an amendment took out wording that would have exempted from FOIA all information relating to the execution process, including details of the buildings used during an execution and all records about the equipment used.

SB 1393 squeaked through Senate Courts by a 7-6 vote and passed the full Senate 23-14. After crossover day Feb. 11, it is in the hands of the House.

This isn’t the first attempt to take lethal injection execution out of public view: A similar measure was introduced in the Ohio legislature, and worked its way to passage in December, despite protests about the secrecy of the process. The new law now is being challenged in federal court in that state.

Although he is a Catholic opposed to the death penalty, Gov. Terry McAuliffe is backing SB 1393. Support has been bipartisan.

Richmond lawyer Craig Merritt testified at the Senate Courts meeting on behalf of the Virginia Press Association, and he has it right: “What this is doing, is placing it on very separate footing from pretty much anything else the Commonwealth or its subdivisions procure.”

Merritt added, “It puts a blanket over how we get this, what we spend for it, who is providing it. That is a serious concern when it comes to transparency.”

The state has no more grave or solemn duty than ending the life of someone for crimes so heinous that they warrant the death penalty. The execution process should not be fogged by secrecy.

We urge members of the House of the Delegates to reject this bill.

 

Connect

Twitter Facebook Google Plus RSS Instagram Pinterest Pinterest LinkedIn


© Society of Professional Journalists. All rights reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center, 3909 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789 | Contact SPJ Headquarters | Employment Opportunities | Advertise with SPJ