Sen. Durbin, advance the PRESS Act

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Sen. Dick Durbin, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, can advance First Amendment rights by scheduling the PRESS Act for a markup. (Sen. Durbin by Center for American Progress Action Fund is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

Sen. Dick Durbin, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, can advance First Amendment rights by scheduling the PRESS Act for a markup. (Sen. Durbin by Center for American Progress Action Fund is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

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Sen. Durbin, advance the PRESS Act

Sen. Dick Durbin has a rare chance to strengthen freedom of the press right now by advancing the bipartisan PRESS Act, a bill to protect journalist-source confidentiality at the federal level. But he needs to act quickly.

This week, Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) led a coalition of 123 civil liberties and journalism organizations and individual law professors and media lawyers in a letter to Durbin, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and ranking member Sen. Lindsey Graham, urging them to schedule a markup of the PRESS Act right away.

Among the signers are acclaimed First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams and the Marion County Record in Kansas, which faced a baseless and retaliatory police raid of its newsroom and the home of its publisher, Eric Meyer, last year. Read more on our website.

Want to do more? Reach out to Durbin directly to ask him to support the PRESS Act and schedule it for a markup ASAP.

Israeli censorship is a cautionary tale for the US

We wrote last week about Israel’s shocking seizure of broadcasting equipment from The Associated Press, cutting off its live footage of Gaza. Fortunately, Israel quickly reversed course after pressure from the U.S. and press organizations.

But as FPF Director of Advocacy Seth Stern explained in The Hill, Israel’s actions preview what might soon be coming to the U.S.

Stern wrote that the ordeal should serve as “a cautionary tale” for U.S. officials. From the TikTok ban to expansions of surveillance powers to pursuing legal cases that would criminalize journalism, President Joe Biden and U.S. lawmakers and prosecutors “keep empowering future administrations to harass the media — apparently trusting them, against all historical evidence, to use restraint,” warned Stern. Read the op-ed here.

Media Matters layoffs underscore SLAPP threat

Media Matters for America announced last week that it’s laying off at least a dozen staffers, blaming a “legal assault on multiple fronts,” including a lawsuit by Elon Musk’s X and the legal actions by Republican state attorneys general that followed.

The layoffs are just the latest example of billionaires and politicians abusing the legal system to retaliate against their critics and harm the public’s right to know through SLAPPs, or strategic lawsuits against public participation.

While many states have enacted laws to punish SLAPPs, some states, and the federal government, have not. That needs to change. Read more on our website.

What we’re reading

Sen. Dick Durbin can help reverse the decline of American press freedom (Chicago Sun-Times). Clayton Weimers, executive director of Reporters Without Borders USA, urges Sen. Durbin to advance the PRESS Act so the U.S. can join other developed democracies around the world in protecting journalist-source confidentiality.

Illinois passes $25 million in tax credits to boost local journalism (Local News Initiative). A new law in Illinois will provide tax credits to help struggling local news outlets and journalists. It's a win-win when the government can support the press without interfering with editorial judgment. Other states, and the federal government, should follow suit.

US court to hear challenges to potential TikTok ban in September (Reuters). The TikTok ban is a prior restraint on the speech of millions of Americans, including journalists. Preemptively censoring even allegedly harmful content is outright unconstitutional. The court should prevent the ban from going into effect.

Prisoner fights for public information access before hesitant Seventh Circuit panel (Courthouse News Service). A circuit court of appeals should grant a federal inmate full access to the official record of government activity in the U.S. Federal Register. Incarcerated people, including journalists, have First Amendment rights to access news and information.

Judge: Lakewood police must disclose blurred body-cam footage of officers shooting and killing 17-year-old (Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition). A judge ordered the release of the footage because other measures, like face blurring, can protect privacy. Courts should err on the side of transparency, not default to secrecy.

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States keep public in dark

A full-fledged assault on transparency is underway in the states. Recent changes to public records laws in New Jersey, Louisiana, and Utah are making it harder for journalists and the public to find out what government officials are up to.

Federal anti-SLAPP law needed ASAP

Recent baseless lawsuits against liberal and conservative outlets show the need for a federal law counteracting strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs.

Assange decision: A wake-up call for US

On Monday, the High Court in London granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange leave to appeal his extradition to the United States. The court’s decision is a welcome one. But as Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) wrote in The Guardian, it's "painfully ironic" that a U.K. court is defending the First Amendment against U.S. overreach. The ruling should be a “wake-up call” for President Joe Biden