US press freedom ‘deteriorating’, ‘awful’ under Obama: report

US press freedom ‘deteriorating’, ‘awful’ under Obama: report

The press in the United States – the so-called bedrock of democracy, freedom of expression and human rights – is not free after all, contrary to popular belief.

A shocking new report published this week by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has revealed the Obama administration’s aggressive and relentless war on leaks and other efforts to control information in an effort to constrict freedom of the press in the world’s largest economy.

The report is the culmination of CPJ interviews of 30 experienced Washington journalists.

The report found that despite President Barack Obama’s promise to head the most open government in American history, the White House policies have chilled the conversation between journalists and their sources.

The report is called The Obama Administration and the Press: Leak investigations and surveillance in post-9/11 America, and was written by Leonard Downie Jr.

Downie Jr is the former Washington Post executive editor and the current Weil Family Professor of Journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The report found that the administration’s prosecution of suspected leakers, combined with broad electronic surveillance programs, have left government officials deeply wary of talking to the press.

The report describes how the government has conducted more than twice as many criminal prosecutions for alleged leaks of classified information than all the previous administrations combined.

It examines the Insider Threat Program, which requires federal employees to monitor the behavior of their colleagues, and also details the use of secret subpoenas to monitor journalists’ electronic communications.

It also points out that the White House has gone to unprecedented lengths to control its message, including the manipulative use of administration-controlled media to avoid scrutiny by the press.

“President Obama is faced with many challenges during his remaining years in office, the outcome of which will help shape his legacy,” Downie Jr is quoted by CPJ as saying in the report.

“Among them is fulfilling his very first promise-to make his administration the most transparent in American history.”  “Whether he succeeds could have a lasting impact on US government accountability and on the standing of America as an international example of press freedom,” the eminent professor added.

Based on the determination that current US government policies “thwart a free and open discussion necessary to a democracy,” CPJ made a series of recommendations that accompany the report.

The media watchdog, through its chairman Sandra Mims Rowe and executive director Joel Simon, said it has sent aletter to President Barrack Obama, calling on his administration to “affirm and guarantee that journalists will not be at legal risk or prosecuted for receiving confidential and/or classified information”.

CPJ also urged the US government to “be more forthcoming about the scope and nature of the National Security Agency and other surveillance activities as they are being applied to domestic and international journalists,” among others.

(Issued by CPJ, additional reports and final editing by Issa Sikiti da Silva)

Photo: AFP

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