Assange freed, press freedom imperiled

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Assange freed, press freedom imperiled

Julian Assange has finally been freed after reaching a surprising deal with U.S. authorities to plead guilty to violating the Espionage Act.

Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) Executive Director Trevor Timm wrote in The Guardian that, “While it should be a relief to anyone who cares about press freedom that Assange will not be coming to the US to face trial, the Biden administration should be ashamed at how this case has played out.”

The plea deal avoids the worst outcome of a court precedent that could be used against journalists, but it still threatens press freedom. As FPF Advocacy Director Seth Stern wrote in the Daily Beast, the only impact of the plea agreement “will be to legitimize the criminalization of routine journalistic conduct and encourage future administrations to follow suit—including a potential second Trump administration.”

For more, watch Timm and Stern weigh in on the alarming implications for journalists and the press, as well as Timm’s appearance on PBS News Hour.

‘Real’ journalists safe? Yeah, right

Stern also wrote on our website about an alarming Voice of America report regarding rules that bar journalists at the military newspaper Stars and Stripes from publishing classified information. Comments from the Defense Department suggest that it believes that Stars & Stripes reporters are subject to the Espionage Act, the same law used to prosecute Assange.

Those defending the Assange prosecution have often assured the public that his case was unique — no one would come after “real” journalists doing their job. Well, then Stars and Stripes reporters must not be real journalists either, because it sure sounds like the Defense Department believes the Espionage Act applies to them too.

You can’t spell SLAPP without LA

Public officials who should know better keep ignoring journalists' First Amendment rights. A prime example: the two ridiculous lawsuits the City of Los Angeles filed against journalist Ben Camacho over his publishing pictures the city itself gave him.

We recently wrote about the city’s dismissal of one of the lawsuits and its agreement to pay $300,000 in attorneys fees. The next day, a judge dismissed the other one, calling it a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP.

If only someone had warned the city that its lawsuits were unconstitutional and doomed to fail. Oh right, we did, along with plenty of other press freedom advocates.

We also wrote about a troubling contempt hearing against Michael Leahy, editor and owner of The Tennessee Star, based on his constitutionally protected publication of excerpts of writings by the shooter behind Nashville’s Covenant School massacre. Read more on our website.

What we’re reading

The Gaza Project (Forbidden Stories). The Gaza Project investigates the Israeli military’s targeting of the press and reveals “a damning array of evidence against the Israeli government.” The Biden administration must condemn these attacks on press freedom, and call on Israel to immediately stop targeting journalists.

Petition aims to dismiss Atlanta’s bid to use Rico law against ‘Cop City’ activists (The Guardian). The Georgia deputy attorney general must drop its case against 61 protesters accused of organizing a criminal conspiracy in opposition to the “Cop City” center. This baseless “conspiracy” case puts both journalists and activists at serious risk.

Racial justice, free speech groups join fight against potential TikTok ban (The Associated Press). Accompanied by free speech groups, the Electronic Frontier Foundation argued that the federal TikTok ban is a prior restraint subject to the highest judicial scrutiny. We joined the EFF’s brief because we agree — the TikTok ban is plainly unconstitutional.

Julian Assange is Free, but Justice Has Not Been Served (Jacobin). Nearly 15 years into the U.S. government’s prosecutorial saga, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is finally walking free. But it’s not completely a win: His plea deal sends the message that journalists can be punished for simply doing their jobs.

National Press Club, Coalition Letter to President Biden on Alsu Kurmasheva Wrongful Detention Designation (National Press Club). Alsu Kurmasheva, an American journalist, has been held by Russia for over eight months on baseless charges. Over a dozen press freedom groups called on the Biden administration to immediately designate Kurmasheva as wrongfully detained and do everything possible to ensure her release.

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Don’t let prosecutors define journalism

Federal prosecutors are claiming a startling new power: the ability to decide what is or isn’t “legitimate” journalism.

Police must protect press covering RNC

As journalists arrive at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum to cover the 2024 Republican National Convention (RNC), we can expect the public to take to the streets to protest everything from Donald Trump’s nomination to the ongoing war in Gaza and the killing of Dvontaye Mitchell.

Platform cases uphold press precedent

With all eyes on the Supreme Court’s disturbing opinion on presidential immunity, you may have missed that the court also issued an important First Amendment decision this week about social media content moderation.