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​US insists on going after reporters who publish leaked info 'not violation of press freedom'

Published time: April 27, 2014 00:47
Edited time: April 29, 2014 22:41
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki (AFP Photo / Nicholas Kamm)

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki (AFP Photo / Nicholas Kamm)

Announcing its third annual Free the Press campaign to highlight censorship and oppression of journalists “around the world,” the US State Department made clear it doesn’t consider press freedom issues in the United States the same way it does abroad.

The aim of the third annual Free the Press campaign is to focus attention on “journalists or media outlets that are censored, attacked, threatened, or otherwise harassed because of their reporting.”

But, apparently, the US' own crackdown on journalists, particularly those involved in whistleblowing, is a completely “separate category” to be highlighted by such an event, as Jen Psaki, the spokesperson for the US State Department made clear.

“We highlight, as we often do, where we see issues with media freedom around the world,” Psaki told Matthew Lee of the Associated Press, who asked if she believes there are some problems with press freedom in the US that should be discussed as well.

“Otherwise harassed?” Lee asked. “Does that include those who may have been targeted, harassed, imprisoned, or otherwise, whatever, by the United States Government?”

Getting no clear answer, he continues questioning, asking whether the US administration regards “attempting to prosecute American journalists as an infringement of press freedom?”

Psaki was quick to reply that she was “not sure” what the AP reporter was referring to exactly. Lee had to specify that among many cases “out there”, he was particularly referring to the “James Risen case.”

On Friday, the US Justice Department urged the US supreme court to reject New York Times correspondent and Pulitzer-Prize winner James Risen's petition on reporter's privilege, which could force him to go to jail for not disclosing his source. The request comes after Obama administration lawyers asked the US Supreme Court to not hear testimony.

In the State Department, Lee continued his line of questioning, asking Psaki if the US State Department regards Risen's case “as an infringement on press freedom or not.”

“And I would suspect that you do not, but I want to make sure that’s the case,” he said.

“As you know, and I’ll of course refer to the Department of Justice, but the leaking of classified information is in a separate category. What we’re talking about here, as you all know, and unfortunately we have to talk about on a regular basis here, is the targeting of journalists,” Psaki answered, adding that that she is referring to “the arrests, the imprisonment, for simply exercising their ability to tell a story.”

Lee continued his grilling, clarifying that “reporters in question here have not leaked the information” but simply “published it.”

“So is it correct, then, that you don’t believe – you don’t regard that as an infringement of press freedom?” he asked.

“We don’t,” Psaki answered, drawing the line under the “Free the Press” campaign announcement.

New York bases Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ), in their 2013 report on the freedom of speech in US noted that the Obama administration continuously violates the freedom to share information.

“Six government employees, plus two contractors including Edward Snowden, have been subjects of felony criminal prosecutions since 2009 under the 1917 Espionage Act, accused of leaking classified information to the press—compared with a total of three such prosecutions in all previous US Administrations,” CPJ special report says.

The NGO notes that reporters’ phone logs and e-mails are “secretly subpoenaed and seized by the Justice Department” and in the case of the New York Times reporter, he is being forced to “testify against a defendant or go to jail.”

James Risen (Image from state.com)

In 2006, James Risen published a book entitled the “ State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration” exposing CIA abuses he had discovered.

In particular, chapter 9 of that disclosed an attempt by the CIA to have a former Soviet nuclear scientist subvert the Iranian nuclear program. Arguments presented in Risen's book, forced the US Department of Justice to search his phone, credit card and bank records to compile a case against a former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling, charged under the Espionage Act, for allegedly leaking the Iranian story to the reporter.

The DOJ subpoenaed Risen to testify about his business with Sterling. Politico reported Friday that the DOJ has formally asked the Supreme Court not to hear Risen’s appeals to the previous appeals court decision, which Risen won, saying that even if the Supreme Court believes journalists have a right to reporters privilege in criminal cases, Risen’s case presents a poor example.

“While the question presented does not warrant this court’s review, this case is a particularly unsuitable vehicle,” the government argued Friday.

In a brief filed Friday, the document says that “although many states recognize a reporter’s privilege of some sort in some circumstances, no ‘consensus’ exists about who qualifies for such a privilege, what types of communications are covered, and the circumstances in which it may be invoked.”