In an important speech on press freedoms this week, ProPublica founder Paul Steiger warned that the Obama administration’s surveillance of reporters, denial of access and efforts to silence sources constitute an assault on American journalists’ ability to do their jobs.
Speaking Tuesday night after receiving the Burton Benjamin Memorial award from the Committee to Protect Journalists, Steiger said in a speech posted on ProPublica that new barriers to reporters have emerged :
For the starkest comparison, I urge any of you who haven’t already done so to read last month’s report, commissioned by CPJ and written by Len Downie, former editor of the Washington Post. It lays out in chilling detail how an administration that took office promising to be the most transparent in history instead has carried out the most intrusive surveillance of reporters ever attempted.
Steiger observed American reporters still have it far better than journalists in Latin America, Asia and Africa who regularly face beatings, jailings and killings. But conditions are changing for American journalists, he said. Beyond the industry’s financial challenges, reporters are encountering more obstacles doing their work:
Consider this: As we now know from the [Edward] Snowden documents, investigators seeking to trace the source of a leak can go back and discover anyone in government who has talked by phone or email with the reporter who broke the story. Match that against the list of all who had access to the leaked info and voila!
Steiger further noted the stricter access to Obama and White House events that recently prompted media organizations to send a letter of protest to spokesman Jay Carney.
The Obama administration is not always hostile to journalists, he said, noting it “ostensibly agreed not to prosecute anyone for engaging in journalism.” But he agreed with CPJ chairman Sandra Mims Rowe’s call for more protests against excessive government secrecy in the U.S., adding:
If we are going to be credible admonishing abusers of journalists abroad, we can’t stand silent when it is going on at home.
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