FAQs about the PRESS Act

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Journalist James Risen speaks at the Miller Center of Public Affairs in Charlottesville, VA, on November 12, 2014. (Miller Center/CC BY 2.0)

FAQs about the PRESS Act

The PRESS Act -– which passed the House last week with no opposition — is the most important press freedom legislation in modern history. It would finally put an end to retaliatory surveillance of journalists who embarrass officials, as well as court orders requiring journalists to choose between burning their sources and risking jail time.

Surveillance of journalists is a bipartisan problem. Presidential administrations from both parties have abused their power to spy on journalists. And the PRESS Act is a bipartisan solution. As it heads to the Senate — where it’s sponsored by Democrats Ron Wyden and Dick Durbin and Republicans Lindsey Graham and Mike Lee — we answer some of the common questions we’ve seen asked about the act. Topics range from the substance and scope of the bill to what you can do to help get it through the Senate. Read more on our website.

Give journalists the floor

Mississippi is the latest of several states trying to keep journalists at bay by limiting their access to the floor of the state legislature.

As you might expect, the lawmakers behind the resolutions have come up with their share of pretexts — the floor is too crowded, for example. But their own statements belie their excuses and make clear that their true motivation is to evade scrutiny and undermine transparency. Read our article about the Mississippi proposals and the disturbing national trend they represent.

Let journalists report freely in Gaza

CNN’s Clarissa Ward and her team are the only Western journalists who have been able to access Gaza during the ongoing war without embedding with Israeli forces — for all of two hours. But that was long enough for Ward to see the urgent need for international journalists to be able to report on the war from the ground.

She wrote a powerful op-ed for the Washington Post this week, explaining that “In a conflict where information has been weaponized, where every claim is met with a dizzying counter claim and misinformation is thriving, international journalists can add an invaluable perspective.”We couldn’t agree more, which is why we helped lead a letter to the Biden administration to pressure its ally to let journalists report freely and safely. As Ward argues, “barring international media from a conflict or indeed any other event is a dangerous precedent,” especially if the ban is motivated not by reporter safety (which neither Israel nor the United States can credibly claim to care about) but reportedly by concerns that the world might not like what it sees.

Relatedly, you can read more here about the vigil for journalists killed during the war that we recently co-sponsored with Defending Rights and Dissent.

What we’re reading

Kansas lawmakers want a report on last year’s police raid of a newspaper. There must be a public and transparent investigation of the illegal police raid on the Marion County Record. Until an investigation is completed and those responsible are held accountable, anyone who cares about press freedom must not let this issue drop.

Citizen journalist can't sue over arrest, divided US appeals court rules. A federal appellate court ruled that citizen journalist Priscilla Villarreal can’t sue officials for arresting her under an obscure law barring solicitation of non-public information from the government. The court cited the availability of authorized channels for obtaining information and ruled that officials were immune from liability because they could have reasonably believed the law was constitutional. It’s appalling that appellate judges would even entertain the notion that journalists should be limited to government-approved sources.

US Appeals Court Again Upholds Texas Drone Restrictions. A federal court decision upholding a near total ban on the use of drones in Texas over sports venues, private property, and other areas will make it much harder for photographers and journalists in the Lone Star State to capture the news. What’s worse, the court’s decision casts doubt on the idea that drone photography has anything to do with speech, despite many decisions recognizing that photography is inherently expressive. Hopefully this decision remains an outlier.

How a Judge in India Prevented Americans From Seeing a Blockbuster Report. We wrote last week about the censorship campaign, driven by an Indian tech company called Appin and a single judge in India, that has led to global removals of important stories about an alleged “hack for hire” operation. Politico’s piece about the alarming case explains that, even when stories don’t violate U.S. law, American outlets with interests in India don’t “have the luxury of blowing off the judge.”

We’re hiring

Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) is hiring for two exciting new positions. 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. And our Social Media Editor will help ensure that FPF’s advocacy campaigns, digital security expertise, technology projects, and press freedom reporting achieve maximum visibility and reach.

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Bipartisan support for the PRESS Act

As unlikely as it sounds, Republicans and Democrats are putting their differences aside to support the most important press freedom legislation in modern times — the PRESS Act.

Harsh punishments for leakers hurt journalism

Former IRS contractor Charles Littlejohn received the maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment on Monday, after pleading guilty to leaking Donald Trump’s returns to The New York Times. Littlejohn also leaked a tranche of ultrawealthy Americans’ tax documents to ProPublica. It’s sadly ironic that Littlejohn is being harshly punished for exposing billionaire tax evasion while billionaire tax evaders themselves continue to be afforded leniency by the judiciary.

PRESS Act passes the House

The House of Representatives passed the PRESS Act by unanimous consent on Jan. 18, 2024. The act is a bipartisan reporter’s shield bill that would protect journalists from being forced to name their sources in federal court and would stop the federal government from spying on journalists through their technology providers. It’s the strongest shield bill we’ve ever seen — and also the one with the best chance of becoming law. Now it’s up to the Senate to finish the job.