The holidays are a time for hope, and while these holiday wishes may be lofty, we believe they are within reach, and at RTDNA we’ll continue to do all we can to advocate for causes that support journalism, press freedom and the public’s right to know.
Passage of the Journalist Protection Act
In late November, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed Senate Resolution 501, introduced by Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, affirming the importance of press freedom and the United States’ role in promoting and protecting press freedom around the world. RTDNA applauded that move and appreciates the Senate’s recognition of this constitutionally-guaranteed freedom. However, that’s not enough. It’s time for Congress to move on the Journalist Protection Act, introduced in February by California Representative Eric Swalwell. In March, RTDNA awarded Swalwell the First Amendment Defender Award for his introduction of the bill, which would make it a federal crime to assault journalists, as happened at least 42 times in the U.S. in 2018. A resolution expressing support for press freedom is encouraging, but the Journalist Protection Act would take real action in deterring attacks on journalists and holding offenders accountable.
Cameras in the Supreme Court
RTDNA has been fighting for cameras in courts across the country for more than fifty years, with victories along the way adding up, but one crucial piece of judicial transparency missing: video coverage inside nation’s highest court. Earlier this year, Senators Charles Grassley and Patrick Leahy, senior members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, urged the court to more regularly release same-day audio of oral arguments, a move RTDNA appreciated. But that’s not enough. One justice who had been firmly against cameras in the court, Justice Kennedy, has retired; the newest member Justice Kavanaugh has expressed some openness to the idea. 2019 is the time for the Supreme Court to finally join so many others in allowing video coverage, as many important cases, including one with potentially significant First Amendment implications, are now before the court.
Support for press freedom and open government in state legislatures
Federal level protections for press freedom and government transparency are crucially important, but people across the country are affected by their states’ individual laws and practices, too, which is why so many efforts to protect press freedom and the people’s right to know must start at the local level. It is our hope that more states will follow examples like Washington, where this year the governor, following advocacy from RTDNA and other press freedom groups, vetoed a bill that would have exempted its legislature from public records laws. A similar issue in Georgia is now playing out in its state court system. State lawmakers have an opportunity to counter the anti-press freedom vitriol emanating from Washington, D.C., and more should pursue state-level press protections (like this one in Montana). RTDNA will be there to support those efforts.