U.S. Press Freedom Tracker: Tell us your problems

August 9, 2017 11:00

Last week, the RTDNA Voice of the First Amendment Task Force and nearly two dozen other journalism associations announced the new nonpartisan U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, which will become the definitive archive of press freedom abuses across the United States.
Now, the task force is asking RTDNA members – and all broadcast and digital journalists across the country – to let it know about problems they have encountered while trying to do their jobs. The information it receives on obstruction, threats, hostility, legal charges, assaults, arrests, and other forms of harassment will be forwarded to the Press Freedom Tracker.
Incidents may be reported by emailing pressfreedom@rtdna.org.
“We have heard from local broadcast and digital journalists around the nation that merely performing their Constitutionally-guaranteed duty to seek and report the truth has become much more difficult in our current political and ideological environment. But I’m certain we haven’t heard of every case of trouble,” said Dan Shelley, RTDNA Incoming Executive Director, who spearheads the task force. “That’s why we’re issuing this call today.”
Since RTDNA, the Committee to Project Journalists, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and more than 20 other press freedom advocacy groups began working to implement the tracker just a few weeks ago, several incidents have occurred that have threatened journalists’ ability to serve the public. Among them:
  • U.S. Capitol Police ordered journalists to stop recording images, and to delete images they had already recorded, as officers were arresting protesters in a public hallway near the Senate chamber.
  • The Trump family launched a “Real News” feature on Facebook to tout the current administration’s accomplishments. In its first two weekly installments, the video series has attempted to discredit the mainstream news media by falsely suggesting that responsible journalists ignored certain news stories, and by positioning itself as a viable substitute for conscientious journalism.
  • A bullet was fired into the Vermont home of a Boston television reporter. Although officials say the shot may have been random and not specifically targeted at the reporter, local police were investigating that possibility.
  • The National Rifle Association, which advocates for broad gun rights, published a video warning the New York Times “we’re coming for you.” It had made a similar threat to the Washington Post earlier.
  • The City of Los Angeles imposed a blanket ban on photography and videography in a public park that hosts a summer concert series.
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a Department of Justice Review of its policy to go after reporters while attempting to identify the sources of leaked classified information only as a last resort. Sessions told a news conference, "We respect the important role the press plays, and we'll give them respect, but it is not unlimited," in what the task force believes is a direct contradiction of the First Amendment
  • Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told “Fox News Sunday” that the Justice Department was not targeting reporters in its new crackdown on those who leak classified material, but he refused to rule out arresting journalists who report leaked information. He told host Chris Wallace, “Generally speaking, reporters who publish information are not committing a crime. But there might be a circumstance where they do.”
“Never has there been a more important time for American journalists to put their heads down and keep committing flagrant acts of responsible journalism. Our belief is that the new U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, by documenting every known threat to the First Amendment, will help the public better understand why the news media are essential to their daily lives,” Shelley said.
RTDNA formed the Voice of the First Amendment Task Force to defend against threats to the First Amendment and news media access, and to bridge the divide between responsible journalists and those who don’t like, or don’t understand, the news media. People wishing to support RTDNA’s efforts may reach out to the task force by emailing pressfreedom@rtdna.org.