Press for the PRESS Act

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Promoting press freedom in the 21st century

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.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer at a press conference

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told the New York Post this week that he hopes the Senate can send the PRESS Act to President Joe Biden's desk this year.042821 Schumer Markey Heinrich King MethaneCRAPresser 49 (51145633805)” by Senate Democrats is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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Journalists must press for the PRESS Act

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer expressed his support this week for the PRESS Act, the federal reporter’s shield bill, giving the legislation an important boost. The PRESS Act is the strongest shield bill Congress has ever proposed, and Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) — as well as many other press freedom groups and news media outlets — strongly supports its passage.  

Journalists should support it too. This week, FPF and the Society of Professional Journalists hosted an event explaining how journalists can support the bill. One of the most important things reporters can do is write about the PRESS Act, in news reports or editorials, like those from the Orange County Register, the Dallas Morning News, and the Boston Globe

Non-journalists can also help spread the word with op-eds and letters to the editor. If anyone doubts they can work, consider that Sen. Dick Durbin, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced his support for the PRESS Act in a letter to the Chicago Sun-Times responding to two op-eds from FPF.  

Journalists (and everyone else) can also email or call their senators to express their support for the PRESS Act. The ACLU has an easy to use form to contact your senators.

It’s especially important for those who live in states with senators on the Judiciary Committee — which is expected to consider the bill soon — to write, speak out, and get in touch with their senators. Those states and senators are: 

Covering America’s incarcerated is getting harder

When sources aren’t allowed to talk, journalists turn to public records. And when journalists can’t obtain public records, they look for insiders. But when all are unavailable, it becomes exceedingly difficult for journalists to report the news. 

That’s the situation often encountered by journalists looking to investigate U.S. jails and prisons and the challenges facing America’s nearly 2 million incarcerated people.

FPF recently joined a legal brief that seeks to address the records problem, in a lawsuit brought by a group of news outlets seeking access to sealed records about deaths and serious injuries at jails in California’s San Diego County. 

That secrecy is wrong. Americans must be able to see for themselves the inner workings of the world’s largest system of mass incarceration. You can read more on our website about the lack of transparency from jails and prisons in San Diego and elsewhere.

U.S. spy program reform at risk

Civil liberties and civil rights organizations, including FPF, have been calling on Congress to reform Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the controversial U.S. spying program. With Section 702 set to expire on April 19, Congress has the opportunity to rein in abuses that have allowed the FBI and other intelligence agencies to surveil Americans, including journalists, without a warrant. 

But recent moves by the Biden administration and some members of Congress could thwart those reform efforts. Last week, news broke that the Biden administration is seeking court approval to extend its surveillance authority under Section 702 for another year. At the same time, there are rumblings that Congress could include Section 702 reauthorization in one of the must-pass funding bills it’s currently considering to keep the government open.

Either option would short-circuit the current push in Congress to rein in the surveillance law. Read more on our website.

What we’re reading

Foreign media is banned from Gaza. Biden should press Israel for access. Israel’s refusal to allow international journalists into Gaza makes it harder for the world to find out what’s happening there. Maybe that’s the point. For months, FPF and other press freedom groups have been urging the Biden administration to push Israel to allow the international press into Gaza. So have members of Congress. It’s beyond time for Israel and the U.S. to heed these calls. 

I was punished under the Espionage Act. Why wasn’t Joe Biden? Daniel Hale points out the government’s double standard when it comes to whistleblowers vs. powerful politicians. If presidents who act out of carelessness get the benefit of the doubt under the Espionage Act, so should whistleblowers who act out of conscience. They shouldn’t be treated like spies when they’re trying to help, not hurt, their country.

Tampa fire chief ordered police called on a local journalist asking for records. In an outrageous abuse of power, Tampa Fire Chief Robbie Northrop called the cops on a reporter for asking to view public records. In the past, this might have been seen as an isolated incident, but not so much these days. Read more from the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker about the alarming uptick in efforts to criminalize routine journalism across the country.

N.J. Senate to kick off National Sunshine Week with bill that guts Open Public Records Act, ‘brings darkness’ instead. Next week is Sunshine Week, the annual effort to shine a light on the importance of public records and open government. The New Jersey legislature is “celebrating” by trying to ram through a law that would gut the New Jersey public records law. Lawmakers should be ashamed for trying to rush through such a wrongheaded bill that would leave New Jersey residents with far less information about their government.

Editor’s note: Last week’s newsletter discussed a letter regarding the arrest of journalist Reed Dunlea that was erroneously addressed to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg rather than Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. The letter and the references to Bragg have been corrected. And good news: Gonzalez’s office has since dropped the charges against Dunlea.

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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.