January 14, 2015

Reuters | Associated Press | Department of Justice

Changes in the Department of Justice’s guidelines for investigating journalists include approval in each case by the attorney general, Julia Edwards reported for Reuters. The changes were announced Wednesday.

The new guidelines dictate that the attorney general, not simply a member of the Justice Department staff, must authorize probes into all “newsgathering activities,” striking old language that applied only to “ordinary newsgathering activities,” a Justice Department official said.

News organizations objected to that language, Eric Tucker reported for the Associated Press.

The updated policy revises protocols announced last year amid outrage among news organizations over Obama administration tactics. It was released just as the Justice Department abandoned its yearslong efforts to compel a New York Times reporter to testify in the trial of a former CIA officer accused of disclosing classified information.

Here’s today’s press release:

WASHINGTON –Attorney General Eric Holder announced today expanded revisions to the Justice Department’s policy regarding obtaining information from, or records of, members of the news media.

The updated policy was announced via a memo by Attorney General Holder to all Justice Department employees.

“These revised guidelines strike an appropriate balance between law enforcement’s need to protect the American people, and the news media’s role in ensuring the free flow of information,” Attorney General Holder said. “This updated policy is in part the result of the good-faith dialogue the department has engaged in with news industry representatives over the last several months. These discussions have been very constructive and I am grateful to the members of the media who have worked with us throughout this process.”

Attorney General Holder first ordered a review of the department’s media guidelines in 2013. He then announced initial revisions to those guidelines in February of last year. The latest revisions arose following comments from federal prosecutors and other interested parties, including news media representatives. These meetings with news media representatives included the inaugural convening of the Attorney General’s News Media Dialogue Group in May 2014.

Among the new revisions announced today, the Attorney General has directed that the guidelines eliminate the use of the word “ordinary” when describing newsgathering activities affected by the policy. The revisions also serve to expand high-level review by the Attorney General for the use of certain law enforcement tools, such as subpoenas and applications for warrants, where the information sought from a member of the news media relates to newsgathering activities.

The updates announced today will revise existing department regulations, and the U.S. Attorney’s Manual will be updated to reflect the changes and provide further guidance to prosecutors as well.

A copy of the Attorney General’s memorandum accompanying the revised guidelines is attached.

Here’s the full memorandum. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press released a statement on Wednesday about the new guidelines. From that statement:

“While we have not yet seen the final regulations, we welcome these changes and appreciate the willingness of Attorney General Holder and DOJ officials to listen to the concerns of the news media when recalibrating their policies,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce D. Brown. Noting the Department’s decision this week not to call New York Times reporter James Risen as a witness at an upcoming federal trial, Brown added, “We hope that decision coupled with the new guidelines reflects that we’ve turned a corner with the DOJ.”

The Newspaper Association of America also released a statement on the changes, noting that they come after 10 months of work from NAA, RCFP, the AP and other news organizations with the Department of Justice.

“The new rules demonstrate a renewed commitment to freedom of the press that will protect the free flow of information to the American public,” said Caroline Little, NAA president and CEO. “We’re honored to have worked with the Department, and we congratulate Eric Holder and his team on crafting rules that will protect newsgathering for years to come.”

And from The Associated Press:

The guidelines, released by the Justice Department, revised steps announced last year in the wake of a public and media industry outcry over the secret seizure of AP phone records in May 2013.

“We are very pleased the Justice Department took our concerns seriously and implemented changes that will strengthen the protection of journalists for years to come,” said AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt.

Last year, Poynter’s Ellyn Angelotti Kamke wrote about what the previous round of changes meant.

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Kristen Hare covers the people and business of local news and is the editor of Locally at Poynter. She previously worked as a staff writer…
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