By Lena Williams, News-Guild-CWA :: A Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist for the New York Times may go to federal prison for refusing to identify a confidential source.
A reporter for The Times-Picayune is forced to testify in federal court about whether two F.B.I. agents were among sources that provided information for an article predicting the indictment of a convicted killer.
Two journalists for the Toledo Blade are detained outside a military manufacturing plant by military police for allegedly violating “Federal law and Army regulations” by photographing the facility.
A National Public Radio correspondent says she was stonewalled by officials at the Department of Homeland Security when she was reporting a radio piece on her detainment by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at Niagara Falls.
A Fox News reporter had his phone records seized and his movements tracked by the Department of Justice.
Government is cracking down on and surveilling journalists like never before. An unprecedented number of journalists are being subpoenaed and threatened with imprisonment for refusing to identify sources or forced to reveal information about their reporting. Journalists increasingly have been denied access to basic information by government officials.
Earlier this month, 38 journalism and open government groups signed a letter to President Obama criticizing the administration’s “lack of transparency,” calling it a form of government censorship.
Meanwhile, the rise of “citizen journalists” and police fear of protestors posting as journalists, is leading to a rash of cases of individuals improperly arrested and detained while documenting protests or police activity. Student journalists at both the high school and college level are being censored by school officials or academic advisers.
These cases, and others like them, are the impetus behind the “Right to Report” blog, which is part of The Newspaper Guild-CWA’s national “Right to Report” campaign. The project also features a Facebook page, Twitter feed and related coverage on NewsGuild.org.
The mission is to raise strong and consistent objections to government policies and activities that curtail freedom of speech and access to public information — attacks on the transparency that is essential to our democracy.
Many of the journalists involved in these cases are members of The Newspaper Guild-CWA. Often, they’re not dealing with the federal government, but with City Hall, local police, county boards and state agencies that are trying to restrict access.
For instance, Detroit police arrested a Guild-represented photojournalist last summer and confiscated the iPhone she was using to record a street arrest. Such actions against both journalists and citizen photographers have become epidemic across the country.
The weekly blog will report on First Amendment issues wherever they may occur. As the blog’s primary reporter, my goal is not only to shed light on a growing and disturbing trend – the infringement on the free flow of information – but also examine and explore ways to deal with abuses of freedom of the press, public access and free-flow expression in the United States and abroad.
I view my role as an independent, objective advocate for the fundamental principle of freedom of the press.
I hope to create a dialogue across the media spectrum that will provoke debate, generate discussion and spur social and political activism that can effect change on a national and global scale. How and where can we enact shield laws? How high do we set the bar for using anonymous sources? Which court cases demand our attention? How do we respond when police or security guards illegally stop people from taking videos and photographs in public?
As a retired New York Times reporter and vice-president of The Newspaper Guild of New York, I bring 40 years of experience to this new role.
The blog will be the foundation for growing the Guild’s “Right to Report” project. Already we are building a coalition of media workers and First Amendment activists who, through petitions, public letters, lobbying and direct action, will be a strong voice for:
- Securing shield laws for journalists
- Protecting whistleblowers
- Affirming the right to film and photograph in public
- Stopping surveillance of journalists email and phones
- Upholding the rights of students, freelancers and bloggers and others involved in covering the news
“Right to Report is about tracking the erosion of free-press rights, and building the strongest, most effective coalition we can to fight back,” said Newspaper Guild President Bernie Lunzer said. “We will make it clear that no matter how divided Americans may be politically, when it comes to the First Amendment, we speak with one voice.”