The case for ignoring censorship orders

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Promoting press freedom in the 21st century

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A portion of the Nov. 30, 2023, court order attempting to censor BusinessDen reporter Justin Wingerter.

When contempt of court is deserved

Our U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documented 11 prior restraints against journalists in 2023, the most since it started tracking them in 2017. The Supreme Court has called prior restraints — or government orders not to publish information — the “most serious” First Amendment violation. They are almost never constitutional.

And yet, courts keep entering prior restraints with little regard for the law, leaving journalists censored while often slow-moving appellate processes play out.

In the Columbia Journalism Review, Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) Director of Advocacy Seth Stern writes that it may be time for news outlets to reconsider complying with these unlawful orders. As Stern argues:

The law is useful only if judges respect it. But when the law on press freedom is not useful for them, they often don’t. … It seems the only way judges are going to stop is if they learn that the press will disregard their orders, shame them on editorial pages, and dare them to imprison journalists for doing their jobs. Is that contempt of court? Maybe. But censorial judges deserve contempt.

Protect journalists covering Israel-Gaza war

On Wednesday, FPF and a coalition of press freedom and human rights organizations sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging his administration to do more to protect journalists’ ability to safely and freely report on the Israel-Gaza war.

At least 79 journalists and media workers have been killed in the war: four by Hamas and its affiliates during the Oct. 7 attacks and at least 75 since, almost all by the Israeli military.

In addition to decrying the deaths of journalists, the letter also emphasizes that Israel and Egypt must provide international journalists with access to Gaza. Earlier this week, the Israeli high court rejected a petition by the Foreign Press Association seeking access to Gaza without an Israeli military escort. Read the full letter here.

And for those in Washington, D.C., who want to show their support for the many journalists killed in the war, Defending Rights and Dissent is holding a vigil for slain Gaza journalists at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 17 at the U.S. Capitol.

More recent reporting on the deadly situation for journalists covering the war is linked below.

Israel’s Gaza war leads to a massacre of journalists

Israel is murdering Palestinian journalists in Gaza. Where is the outrage?

Israel Must Safeguard Journalists in Gaza

RSF secures inclusion of crimes against journalists in ICC investigation into Palestine

CNN runs Gaza coverage past Jerusalem team operating under shadow of IDF censor

What we’re reading

Questions, worries fly after Florida journalist's home raided by FBI for Kanye West video. Journalists and the public need to know why the government raided freelancer Tim Burke’s home last spring. If the raid was based on common newsgathering practices like accessing public information online, it would run afoul of the First Amendment. And if there’s more to it, the current secrecy and resulting ambiguity still chills legitimate newsgathering.

Agencies not keeping up with FOIA requests, report shows. The FOIA backlog keeps growing despite increased abuse of loopholes to deny requests. FOIA only increases transparency if the government makes the investments needed to meet deadlines and holds itself accountable. Otherwise, it’s just a stalling mechanism.

Why Assange case is bigger threat to press freedom than SLAPPs. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange remains imprisoned in the U.K., awaiting extradition to the U.S. on charges that threaten press freedom — whether you think Assange is a journalist or not. The Espionage Act charges against him are based on activities that many journalists engage in daily: talking to a source, obtaining secret documents from a source, and publishing them. The Biden administration should drop these dangerous charges without delay.

A special thank you

We’re thrilled to announce that Jack Dorsey’s philanthropic initiative, #startsmall, has made the largest gift to FPF in our history.

“We’re incredibly grateful for this game-changing grant from Jack Dorsey and #smartsmall,” said FPF Executive Director Trevor Timm in our announcement of the donation. “At Freedom of the Press Foundation, we focus on real-world challenges that investigative journalists face every day, and Jack’s transformative gift allows us to lead the fight to ensure a free press is protected for everyone in the years to come.”

We will have more news on how we plan to expand our work protecting press freedom very soon! So stay tuned.

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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.

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 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.