Posts Tagged ‘Free Press’

Progress on shield bill

Good news on the Shield Law front over the past week.

On Wednesday (7/17), a bipartisan group of senators led by New York Democrat Charles Schumer and South Carolina Republican Lindsay Graham said they’re going to push for a Shield Law that enshrines revisions to Justice Department policies announced by Attorney General Eric Holder on July 12.

Holder’s revisions to DOJ guidelines would make it harder for prosecutors to obtain journalists’ phone records without advance notice.

The bill Schumer, Lindsay and their colleagues announced Wednesday would go a bit further, ensuring that an impartial judge reviews government attempts to compel journalists and news agencies or third parties, such as phone companies and internet providers, before the Justice Department tries to obtain them.

“In many ways, our bill is tougher than the new [DOJ] guidelines,” Schumer said at a press conference, “but the DOJ has smartly proposed new ideas that would offer additional protections to journalists while carefully balancing that need against national security.”

Holder’s policy changes came after various journalism groups, including SPJ, voiced concerns about the Justice Department’s seizure of the AP’s phone records and a Fox News reporter’s emails. In a letter to Holder in June, SPJ expressed serious concerns that the DOJ wasn’t following its own guidelines for dealing with demands for information from journalists in the government’s investigations of leaks.

After meeting with and hearing from a slew of journalism groups, Holder surprised me and actually strengthened the guidelines.

Of particular note was the Attorney General’s statement of principles: “As an initial matter, it bears emphasis that it has been and remains the Department’s policy that members of the news media will not be subject to prosecution based solely on newsgathering activities.”

The policy changes Holder outlined seek to strike “the appropriate balance between two vital interests,” he said in his report to the President: “protecting the American people by pursuing those who violate their oaths through unlawful disclosures of information and safeguarding the essential role of a free press in fostering government accountability and an open society.”

Schumer, Lindsay and shield bill co-sponsors Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Roy Blount, R-Mo., and Jonny Isakson, R-Ga., echoed that sentiment in Wednesday’s press conference announcing their intent to submit a “tougher bill” than either the previous bill that languished in the Senate three years ago or Holder’s revised guidelines.

“We’ve struck the right balance here between national security and protecting those who cover government,” Graham said after noting that “guidelines are not gonna cut it in the 21st century.

“We need a statute, a law that transcends administrations.”

Other societies wish they had the kind of reporting on government that Americans have, Graham said.

“We have it, we need to protect it, and quite frankly, cherish it,” he said.


Occupied by outrage over arrests of journalists at protest events

Robert Stolarik, Julia C. Reinhart, John Bolger, Nathan Heustis, John Knefel, Jacob Roszak, Alisen Redmond, Judith Kim.

All of these journalists were doing their jobs on public sidewalks or streets when they were arrested or detained or harassed by police.

Two of them —Redmond and Kim — are scheduled to be tried in Atlanta City Court this Friday, Oct. 12, on misdemeanor “obstruction of traffic” charges. Both women are student journalists: Ms. Redmond at Kennesaw State University and Ms. Kim at Georgia State University.

Both were arrested last November while covering an Occupy Atlanta demonstration, apparently singled out by police while the two were taking photos and video of the protests alongside other journalists. They spent 14 hours in jail before being released.

SPJ, the National Press Photographers Association, the Student Press Law Center and others have sent letters to Atlanta officials condemning continued prosecution of this case and arguing that student journalists are no less journalists than those who work for the Atlanta Journal Constitution or CNN.

The arrest and lengthy detention of Redmond and Kim were outrageous enough, but to hold a dubious “obstruction of traffic” charge over their heads for nearly a year seems an abuse of prosecutorial privilege and authority.

Most of the other journalists I named above were arrested while covering the anniversary demonstrations of Occupy Wall Street in New York City in mid-September. You can read more about them in this Storify story. (Kudos to Josh Stearns of Free Press for all the works he’s done over the last year tracking these arrests.)

One — Stolarik, a New York Times photographer — was arrested in August in the Bronx while taking pictures of an arrest that was part of the NYPD’s controversial “stop-and-frisk” program. Charges of obstruction of governmental administration and resisting arrest remained lodged against Stolarik as of September 30, according to a letter to NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly by NPPA general counsel Mickey Osterreicher.

The OWS anniversary arrests and the police assault on Stolarik indicate a ramped up police practice of preventing journalists from bearing public witness to public events — despite clear legal precedent that protects journalists who are observing and recording such events and despite an NYPD memo sent out after last year’s raid on Zucotti Park that reminded officers of the right of journalists to be present.

Although the NPPA and SPJ (through our local chapter, the New York Deadline Club) expressed dismay and concern over the NYPD’s actions against journalists last month, the groups extended an offer to Kelly to meet with him and his administrators “to improve police-press relations and to clarify the ability of credentialed and non-credentialed journalists to photograph and record on public streets without fear of intimidation and arrest,” as NPPA’s Osterreicher put it.

As of Oct. 10, NPPA and SPJ had not heard back from Kelly.





Thanks to those who protect press freedoms – at home and around the world

All our committees do good work, but some get more “press” than others. Google search SPJ and you’ll get tons of hits for our Ethics Committee and the Freedom of Information Committee. At the same time, other volunteers toil quietly but to equally great effect.

This year, the International Committee has fielded a minefield of requests. The Arab Spring notwithstanding, it seems journalists from around the world have reached out to the Society for guidance, affirmation, even protection.

Maybe I have an affinity for this group because, well, my name isn’t Mary Smith. But as I’ve travelled throughout this term, I’ve found many of you equally interested in furthering a free press outside our borders even as we fight to hold on to those rights under attack from within.

So I have found myself fielding interviews for the Voice of Russia, answering questions from journalists in China, Wales, New Zealand and Spain, and issuing statements on behalf of journalists in the Middle East. This is a tiny microcosm of the work the committee handles weekly.

That work personified itself in May when a slender young man walked into my office at WCPO-TV to talk about journalism from a perspective foreign to most. Muhammad Imram watched the birth of a free press in Pakistan after years of government control. Now, he’s watching friends die on the job.

Imram is only 28 but serves as his station’s news anchor and assignment editor, which he says is the person who runs the entire newsroom. He supervises a crew entirely within a decade of his age, with no prior example of how to do journalism. Until 2006, Imram says there was no independent electronic media in Pakistan, only one state-owned television station and one state-owned radio station. A new regime opened the doors and now, almost 100 outlets operate in four languages.

Imram came here on a one-month U.S. government-funded program that immersed Pakistani journalists in newsrooms including ours so they could learn about the profession, from the guts of journalism to new media and the latest camera equipment. By the time you read this, he’ll be back home to pass along his knowledge.

While many of his questions spoke of challenges you’d hear from anyone growing up and learning the trade here, I found his biggest challenge to be both universal and unique. The issue seems commonplace: how to balance a story. It’s the reason he cites as the challenge that departs from the American experience. It’s not that Imram or his compatriots don’t know they need to offer multiple viewpoints. It’s that some sources aren’t just putting their jobs on the line if they speak; they’re putting their lives on the line. That’s a much harder sell.

Imram himself can’t go home to his native province. He works in a city hours away because he says extremists have threatened him and his family if he returns. The Committee to Protect Journalists says in 2010, eight Pakistani journalists died for work they published or aired, ranking Pakistan as the most dangerous country for journalists, just ahead of Iraq, Mexico and Honduras. Imram says one of these journalists was a friend assassinated in the middle of an assignment in Swat city.

In June, SPJ wrote a letter to the Pakistani ambassador in Washington D.C. expressing our dismay at the violence that has befallen reporters there, including Saleem Shahzad, a reporter who had written extensively on al Qaeda and the Talbian, who was killed just after he produced a story that raised questions about the relationship between Pakistani military officers and terrorist groups. Other reporters died after reporting on ties to the nation’s intelligence service, the ISI.

[UPDATE: The New York Times reports there is more evidence from U.S. intelligence linking Shahzad’s slaying to the Pakistani ISI.]

In our letter to the Honorable Husain Haqqani, we asked the Pakistani government to launch an investigation into Mr. Shahzad’s murder and the violence against other journalists. Not surprisingly but sadly, we haven’t heard back.

It may seem like shouting empty words into a deserted theater, but SPJ’s calls for justice have led to results in the past, certainly within this country. In June, a jury in Oakland, California convicted two men in the 2007 murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey. He had been working on a story of a financially troubled community group when he was killed as he walked to work. The Sigma Delta Chi Foundation contributed $20,000 in a grant to help launch The Chauncey Bailey Project. Our Northern California chapter then joined other media organizations to continue and expand Bailey’s work, leading to dozens of stories that resulted from competing news organizations putting aside business interests to work toward this common cause, to express clearly and loudly that our work will not be silenced, that we will stand together to find the truth and report it.

Bailey’s cousin, Wendy Ashley-Johnson, posted her reaction to the conviction on the project website. She said, “Journalists have a job to do and they should not be squashed in what they do.” True here, true everywhere in the world. Just ask Muhammad Imram, back home on the job in Islamabad.




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