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CPJ urges US authorities to drop charges against journalists

WASHINGTON: The Com­mittee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) asked US authorities on Wednesday to drop rioting charges against three journalists arrested while covering protests during President Donald Trump’s inauguration. CPJ, a US-based media advocacy group, also asked the Trump administration to allow reporters to protect their sources.

Police arrested Evan Engel, a senior producer at the news website Vocativ, and Alex Rubinstein, a reporter with the Russian state-funded broadcaster RT America, in downtown Washington on Jan 20. Police also arrested Aaron Cantu, a freelance journalist who has written for The Baffler, the website Truthout and Al Jazeera.

“These charges are clearly inappropriate and we are concerned that they could send a chilling message to journalists covering future protests,” said Carlos Lauría, senior Americas programme coordinator. “We call on authorities in Washington to drop these charges immediately.”

As a new administration took charge in Washington, CPJ examined the status of press freedom in the United States, including the challenges journalists face such as surveillance, harassment, limited transparency, the questioning of libel laws and other factors.
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In his first news conference after the Nov 8 election, Mr Trump berated US intelligence agencies for allowing classified documents to be leaked, saying it was something “Nazi Germany would have done”, and branded CNN as “fake news” for reporting on the documents that allege he has ties with Russia.

On Jan 21, Mr Trump visited the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, where he criticised the US media for reporting that he had a feud with the American intelligence community. “They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth,” he said.

CPJ noted Mr Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, told his confirmation hearing last week that he was unsure whether he would commit to following stricter guidelines on subpoenaing a journalist’s records, adopted by Attorney General Eric Holder in 2015.

CPJ warned that such comments were “concerning for investigative reporters, who are already under pressure”. It noted that during the Obama administration, the Department of Justice used the Espionage Act to prosecute leaks “more times than all previous administrations” and successfully argued in court against a broader reporter’s privilege in the case of a subpoena against The New York Times journalist James Risen.

CPJ pointed out that nearly all states recognise journalists’ privilege through court decisions or legislation that exists in at least 34 states to protect journalists from naming sources in state court. But the US lacks a federal shield law.

CPJ spoke to James Goodale, the First Amendment attorney who represented The New York Times in the landmark libel suit The New York Times vs Sullivan and in the Pentagon Papers case, about whether the press will be at heightened risk of being subpoenaed under a Trump administration.

Mr. Goodale, who wrote Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles, told CPJ that journalists have reasons to be worried.

courtesy : dawn news

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