US Among World Government's Repressing Journalistic Freedoms

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Common Dreams

US Among World Government's Repressing Journalistic Freedoms

Prosecution of whistleblowers and secretive trials for suspected terrorists show that US press freedoms under attack

by
Jon Queally, staff writer

A protester denounces anti-press violence in India. The United States government is strongly criticized for its suppression of journalistic freedoms in new report. (Photo: AP/Rajanish Kakade)

The imprisonment of journalists worldwide reached a record high in 2012, driven in part by the widespread use of charges of terrorism and other anti-state offenses against critical reporters and editors, the Committee to Protect Journalists has found.

In their accounting of the quality of press protections across the world, the CPJ's report, Attack on The Press: Journalism on the Front Lines, found an alarming international trend of government overreach and repression of journalistic freedoms with those in the United States not at all immune from the abuses of state power.

The report shows that 232 journalists found themselves behind bars because of their work in 2012, an increase of 53 from the previous year and the highest since CPJ launched its annual global study in 1990.

Specifically focusing on the US, the report found that under President Obama the government has been dangerously aggressive in its prosecution of government whistleblowers and harmful of press freedom by repeatedly blocking access to key information related to its anti-terrorism policies and what it terms "national security secrets."

As the report states:

The Obama administration continued to clamp down on officials who leak sensitive information to the news media. A former CIA officer pleaded guilty to criminal charges of leaking a covert operative's identity, effectively ending a legal battle by three journalists fighting government subpoenas to testify in the case. The director of national intelligence announced new rules to clamp down on leaks, and the Senate debated a bill that would further impede officials from sharing intelligence information with the press. In issues related to access, a military judge rejected a request by several media outlets to broadcast the Guantánamo Bay trial of suspects accused in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. And a number of news organizations appealed a military judicial decision to seal documents related to the court-martial of Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, who faced charges of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks. Reporter James Risen, author Ed Moloney, and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns continued to fight subpoenas that would force them to turn over their unpublished reporting or testify in criminal investigations. Several journalists were arrested covering demonstrations linked to the Occupy movement.

Overall, as The Guardian's Roy Greenslade observes, the report "makes for depressing reading" for those supportive of a vital and free press.

Some of these key findings from the report explain why:

  • The 29.6 percent worldwide increase over 2011 was the largest percentage jump in a decade and the second consecutive annual increase of more than 20 percent. Imprisonments increased 23.4 percent from 2010 to 2011.
  • The number of journalists held on anti-state charges, 132, is the highest CPJ has recorded, although its proportion of the overall tally, about 57 percent, is consistent with surveys in recent years.
  • The use of retaliatory charges was the next most common tactic among cases in which charges were publicly disclosed. Nineteen journalists faced such charges worldwide.
  • Seven journalists were being held on charges of engaging in ethnic or religious "insult," and six others were jailed on criminal defamation allegations. Violations of censorship statutes were cited in three cases, while charges of disseminating "false news" were lodged in two instances.
  • The overwhelming majority of the detainees are local journalists being held by their own governments. Three foreign journalists were imprisoned worldwide, CPJ's survey found.
  • Online and print media journalists constituted the two largest professional groups on CPJ's census. Among other media, 24 television journalists, 12 radio reporters, and one documentary filmmaker were being held.
  • Eighty-five freelance journalists were in jail worldwide on December 1, constituting about 37 percent of the census. The proportion of freelance journalists, which had trended upward in recent years, dropped for the first time since 2006.

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