Assange case threatens journalism

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(Freedom of the Press Foundation)

Assange prosecution could kill investigative reporting

Next week, the High Court in London will consider whether Julian Assange should be extradited to the United States to face charges under the Espionage Act for obtaining government secrets from a source and publishing them. Even if you don’t like Assange, or don’t think he’s a journalist, his case poses an existential threat to the First Amendment rights of the journalists you do like.

Our new video about the case highlights the threat of arming Donald Trump with a precedent criminalizing investigative reporting should he get a second presidential term. Trump, of course, routinely fantasizes about locking up journalists, specifically those who publish leaked documents. But the threat is by no means limited to Trump. About half the administrations since Richard Nixon’s have seriously considered prosecuting journalists under the Espionage Act — and those are only the ones we know about. What stopped them, in large part, was the lack of a legal precedent. But that soon may change.

The Department of Justice should drop the charges against Assange now, and not leave the fate of press freedom in the United States up to British courts.

Los Angeles’s lawsuit against journalist is an unconstitutional mess

Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) Advocacy Director Seth Stern wrote for the Los Angeles Daily News about the city’s unconstitutional effort to pass along responsibility for its accidental release of police officers’ photographs to a journalist.

In 2022, the city accidentally released photos of officers it contends were working undercover to journalist Ben Camacho, after Camacho sued them to enforce his rights to public records.

Last year, the city unsuccessfully attempted to get the photos back and to stop Camacho and others from publishing them. Now, it’s going even further, contending that Camacho should be financially responsible for the costs of its negligence.

As Stern explains, “The city has hit the trifecta of anti-press First Amendment violations: first, demanding journalists give back documents the government released, second, censoring journalists from publishing information, and now, holding journalists financially liable for truthful publications.”

Georgia is criminalizing dissent and privacy

Georgia prosecutors are arguing that the use of a prepaid “burner” phone by one of the defendants charged with breaking the law for opposing the proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center — commonly known as “Cop City” — is evidence of criminal intent.

Burner phones are just the latest tool used by activists, dissidents, and journalists that Georgia has tried to criminalize. It’s even argued that writing down legal hotline numbers proves intent to commit a crime. As we’ve previously written, the entire case threatens press freedom.

FPF helped lead a coalition of 25 civil liberties, environmental rights, and press freedom organizations in demanding that Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr stop attempting to criminalize dissent, journalism and privacy. Read more on our website.

Journalists remain under attack in Gaza

Despite President Joe Biden’s statement that Israel’s military campaign in Gaza has been “over the top,” journalists continue to be killed along with other civilians, and the international press remains shut out of Gaza. The administration’s words still have not been backed up by action.

Editorial boards in the western press need to call attention to the deaths of their colleagues in Gaza and how the inability of journalists to report deprives the public of vital information about the war, as the Financial Times did this week.

Recent reporting on the deadly situation for journalists covering the war is linked below.

The journalists killed in Gaza — and what they tried to show the world

Israel-Gaza war brings 2023 journalist killings to devastating high

Al Jazeera’s Ismail Abu Omar, Ahmad Matar wounded in Israeli strike on Gaza

RSF nominates Palestinian journalists in Gaza for UNESCO’s Guillermo Cano prize

‘A Person Can Be Killed Reporting,’ Says Gaza Journalist

What we’re reading

'That's bullcrap': Conservative media bashes Florida defamation bill. Conservatives in Florida see right through political stunts purporting to attack the “liberal” media with anti-speech legislation that would be disastrous for all media, including outlets conservatives rely on. Press freedom is not a partisan issue.

Truly, what are we doing here? It’s 2024 and most of the public still can’t watch the Supreme Court in action. By continuing to stubbornly refuse to allow its arguments to be televised or live streamed, the court is shutting out the vast majority of journalists and members of the public from seeing it in action. Why is the Supreme Court so afraid of transparency?

Bill would ‘rip the heart out of’ KY’s open records law, First Amendment advocates say. When lawmakers introduce legislation like this ridiculous Kentucky bill to exclude opinions and policy discussions from public records, they’re basically announcing to journalists that they have something to hide.

Bill introduced to ‘swiftly’ dismiss frivolous lawsuits in Idaho. Great news that Idaho is the latest state to introduce an anti-SLAPP bill to combat frivolous defamation suits by the rich and powerful. All states, and the federal government, should have anti-SLAPP laws, and those that already do should make them stronger.

FPF Live

Data-driven coverage of press freedom. In honor of Student Press Freedom Day on Feb. 22, FPF will host a virtual training at 7 p.m. EST on using the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker for your reporting, along with a discussion of why covering press freedom issues matters for journalists and their readers. All journalists — students or not — are welcome! REGISTER HERE.

We’re hiring

FPF is hiring! The Daniel Ellsberg Chair on Government Secrecy, established in honor of the legendary Pentagon Papers whistleblower who co-founded FPF, will lead the national fight against excessive government secrecy — the root cause of so many press freedom and democracy issues.

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