Tricia Todd Headshot

The United States vs. Freedom of Speech

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Co-authored by Eric Matthies - Co-Producer/Director of the documentary film, Killing The Messenger: The Deadly Cost of News

The criminalization of journalists in the United States is not a new occurrence, but the overt and veiled threats to reporters and their sources is becoming less of a rarity.

The Department of Justice subpoena of two month's worth of the Associated Press' phone records has brought to light a fallacy that the Obama administration supports free speech.
Gary Pruitt, the CEO of Associated Press said in a recent interview with Face The Nation:

The government is sending a message to officials, he said, "that if you talk to the press, we're going to go after you. Officials who would normally talk to us, and people we would talk to in the normal course of news gathering, are already saying to us that they're a little reluctant to talk to us; they fear that they will be monitored by the government."

Coinciding with this incident is the DOJ probe of classified leaks and new gathering tactics of reporter James Rosen, Fox News chief Washington correspondent.

Before the tracking and harassment of Rosen there was the incident with James Risen, a New York Times reporter who received a subpoena "COMMANDING" him to appear in court. He was issued the subpoena to testify at the trial of a former CIA Agent accused of leaking secrets to Mr. Risen.

According to the New York Times President Obama has already outdone every previous president in pursuing leak prosecutions.

To serve their purposes in controlling the message the Obama administration has been using the Espionage Act of 1917 to hassle anyone who is leaking government secrets to outside sources. The number one target under this act is Bradley Manning whose trial begins today.

If whistle blowers, sources and journalists are all going to be spied on, dragged into court and their rights violated then freedom of press will certainly suffer.

Attorney Kenneth L. Wainstein, who testified in favor of reforming the Espionage Act, argued that reporters serve a purpose and will become "less energetic" in their duties if faced with a greater possibility of being subpoenaed. He also said that a prosecutor can satisfy his or her burden of proof without calling a journalist to testify.

In 2010 President Obama signed into law a document called the Daniel Pearl Act. The press release on this document states:

World Press Freedom Day is observed every year on May 3 to remind us of the critical importance of this core freedom. It is a day in which we celebrate the invaluable role played by the media in challenging abuses of power, identifying corruption, and informing all citizens about the important issues that shape our world. It is also a day for us to sound the alarm about restrictions on the media as well as the threats, violence or imprisonment of many of its members and their families because of their work.

But for every media worker who has been targeted there are countless more who continue to inform their communities despite the risks of reprisal. On World Press Freedom Day, we honor those who carry out these vital tasks despite the many challenges and threats they face as well as the principle that a free and independent press is central to a vibrant and well-functioning democracy.

Unfortunately, this appears to be nothing but chin music, as the US also would appear to be disrupting press freedom overseas.

Recent reports emerge that Yemeni investigative journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye might soon be pardoned by the transitional government, after more than three years imprisonment and interrogation. It remains to be seen if U.S. intervention will once again prevent his release. Shaye had written extensively on 2009 and 2011 drone strikes and Cruise missile strikes that resulted in significant civilian casualties. He used his influence within the tribal community system to gain access to interviews with Al Qaeda and Taliban commanders, including the American Anwar Al-Awlaki. He was arrested in 2011 by Yemeni forces, interrogated for 34 days and then found guilty in a court widely criticized for being rigged against him. The Yemeni government was set to pardon him in 2011 when the direct intervention by Barrack Obama curtailed his release.
Journalists in Yemen are under constant legal threat. Often it's because they are reporting on events revealing dishonest dealings in state government. The corruption these reporters are investigating is frequently related to the war on terror. In Shaye's case, the corruption of his investigations involved the Yemeni complacency in an American targeted killing campaign, which resulted in the influx of millions of dollars in aid money.

It becomes difficult not to seek parallels in the juxtaposition of Shaye's case and current events involving Western media. The U.S. Department of Justice has sent a clear message that they will harass reporters and criminalize whistleblowers, sending a chill through the journalism community.