States keep public in dark

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New Jersey, Louisiana, and Utah are among the latest states to pass laws severely restricting access to executive branch records by journalists and the public. (sunshine-1c by Electronic Frontier Foundation is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

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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.

This week, we wrote about these new laws and how they undermine the public’s right to know. From making it harder to obtain government emails in New Jersey to putting the governor’s schedule totally off limits in Louisiana and thwarting access to officials’ calendars in Utah, lawmakers seem determined to keep the public in the dark.

Congress rules out Espionage Act reform

We’ve written before about how the Espionage Act is a vague and ambiguous law that prosecutors have used to go after investigative journalism — including both publishers and sources.

That’s why we’ve repeatedly called for Congress to reform the law, including most recently by supporting an amendment offered by Rep. Rashida Tlaib to a national defense bill. Earlier this week, we joined a letter led by Defending Rights & Dissent urging Congress to approve the amendment.

Unfortunately, a House committee rejected the amendment Wednesday on procedural grounds, refusing to allow it to be considered by the full Congress. At least some members of Congress — like Tlaib — have the courage and the foresight to try to check this dangerous law. But we need the full Congress to step up and reform the Espionage Act.

From bylines to behind bars

Journalists continue to be arrested, detained, or assaulted by police in alarming numbers while covering pro-Palestinian protests in the U.S.

We recently spoke to two experts, Mickey Osterreicher of the National Press Photographers Association and law professor Susan E. Seager, about why protests remain one of the most dangerous places for journalists, and what reporters and everyone can do about it.

Osterreicher and Seager emphasized the lack of understanding of (and concern for) journalists’ rights among police. “The fact is that all law enforcement take an oath, they swear an oath to uphold the Constitution,” Osterreicher said. “It's kind of hard to do that when you don't understand what it is that's in there.”

Listen to the whole conversation on X, or read the highlights on our website.

What we’re reading

Assange's UK appeal against US extradition to begin on July 9 (AFP via Yahoo News). The government’s Espionage Act theory against Assange criminalizes investigative reporting and makes a mockery of the First Amendment. The U.S. needs to drop the case rather than further embarrass itself on the world stage at next month’s hearing.

Editor’s note: A judge ordered us to turn over privileged documents. We’re appealing to the Mississippi Supreme Court (Mississippi Today). Mississippi Today published a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into a welfare scandal involving former Gov. Phil Bryant and, in response, Bryant sued them and is trying to out their sources. The Mississippi Supreme Court must protect journalist-source confidentiality.

U.S. Senate can protect our democracy by passing the PRESS Act (Tucson Sentinel). “The more we treat journalists like criminals for doing their jobs, jailing them for refusing to reveal their sources or spying on them to find out what those sources are saying, the harder it is for them to tell us the sometimes hard truths we need to know.” More on the PRESS Act here and here.

This prison newspaper has been publishing for more than a century (NPR). It’s good that journalism behind bars is thriving but the retaliation incarcerated journalists face is unacceptable. Jeremy Busby, who is serving time in Texas, wrote for Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) last year about “relentless” punishment for reporting on prison conditions.

FPF Live

Journalists can learn how to protect themselves while reporting on the election in this free webinar series offered by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Women’s Media Foundation, and PEN America, including a session with FPF’s Harlo Holmes on June 18 on protecting against hacking and doxxing.

While you’re at it, check out this conversation between members of FPF’s Digital Security Team addressing digital security threats journalists are likely to encounter during the 2024 federal elections — including device seizures, law enforcement surveillance, and data requests.

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