Dear friend of press freedom,
Here are some of the most important stories we’re following from the U.S. and around the world. If you enjoy reading this newsletter, please forward it to friends and family. If someone has forwarded you this newsletter, please subscribe here.
The House of Representatives passed the PRESS Act by unanimous consent on Thursday. 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.
“Journalists shouldn’t be forced to choose between burning their sources or going to jail,” said Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) Director of Advocacy Seth Stern in our statement on the House’s important vote. “With the House’s bipartisan vote approving the PRESS Act, Congress comes one step closer to providing powerful protection against surveillance of journalists. Now it’s up to the Senate to finish the job.”
Global censorship campaign raises alarms
News outlets worldwide have been heeding demands to remove articles about an Indian tech company called Appin and its co-founder, Rajat Khare. The takedowns aren’t just happening in India, but here in the U.S. as well.
The ordeal raises serious concerns about the global reach of local judges thousands of miles away. It also calls into question the adequacy of existing law to combat international censorship campaigns arising from countries with governments that don’t respect human rights, let alone press freedom. Read our article about this unusual — and alarming — global censorship campaign.
Vigil for journalists killed in Gaza
Defending Rights and Dissent held a vigil on Jan. 17 outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., for journalists killed in Gaza. FPF co-sponsored the event. Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Cori Bush joined press freedom advocates to speak out against the horrific killings of journalists and other civilians in Gaza.
“Protecting journalists matters not only because all civilian life should be protected during wartime. It matters because protecting journalists also protects the world’s right to know about what’s happening in Gaza,” FPF Deputy Director of Advocacy Caitlin Vogus said at the vigil. “The [Biden administration] needs to use its influence with Israel to demand that journalists in Gaza can safely document the war.”
Elon Musk: World’s biggest free speech hypocrite
X (formerly Twitter) owner Elon Musk’s purported support for free expression is nothing more than a “snake-oil salesman’s marketing scheme,” writes FPF Executive Director Trevor Timm in The Guardian.
The most recent example of Musk’s hypocrisy on free speech was X’s brief suspension of several left-leaning journalists and commentators. Musk “uses his power to retaliate against his critics more than anyone this side of Donald Trump,” Timm wrote. Read the full article here.
Government gag rules muzzle journalists’ sources
Pennsylvania journalist Brittany Hailer is the first journalist in the country to file a lawsuit challenging government gag rules — policies that prohibit public employees from speaking to journalists or require them to seek approval from higher-ups first. In recent years, censorship by public information officer has become the norm.
Read our article about Hailer’s important step in fighting back against these chilling policies that prohibit people who work for the public from speaking to the public.
2023 prison census: Jailed journalist numbers near record high; Israel imprisonments spike. The Committee to Protect Journalists documents 320 jailed journalists worldwide as of Dec. 1, 2023, the second-highest number since the census began in 1992. Check out the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker for more about threats to press freedom in the United States.
US judge rules in favor of police 'buffer law' viewed as threat to rights of journalists. An Indiana judge upheld the state’s unconstitutional law against recording police within 25 feet. The lawmaker behind the bill reportedly said she introduced it because citizens like those who recorded George Floyd’s murder were “involved in a situation that’s none of their business.” That tells you all you need to know.
Johnson County police to encrypt radio scanners, sparking transparency concerns. It’s not just New York Police Department radio that’s going dark. Days before Christmas, police in Johnson County, Kansas, announced they’ll start encrypting their radio communications. Encrypting police radio undermines transparency and doesn’t protect officers or the public.
FPF is thrilled to welcome award-winning journalist and WIRED Global Editorial Director Katie Drummond as the newest member of its board of directors. She joins other award-winning journalists, whistleblowers, and free expression advocates, such as Azmat Khan, Wesley Lowery, Laura Poitras, Edward Snowden, John Cusack, and board President Rainey Reitman. Read more here about Drummond and the experience she brings to FPF.
We posted two new jobs at FPF this week. 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.