May 22, 2017

Introducing RSF's #WeeklyAddress on US press freedom

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is deeply troubled by the increased hostility towards journalists in the United States. Just as President Donald Trump addresses the American people each week on social media, RSF has decided to start its own #WeeklyAddress, revealing the main threats and attacks against the press that have occurred in such a short period of time.

Here are the most troubling attacks on press freedom that occurred during the week of May 15 - 21:

1) Last Tuesday, The New York Times reported that President Donald Trump suggested in February that former F.B.I. Director James Comey consider imprisoning journalists who publish classified information. The White House did not respond on Wednesday when asked if Trump supports the imprisonment of journalists who report stories based on leaks. “Suggesting that the government should prosecute journalists for the publication of classified information is very menacing, and I think that’s exactly what they intend,” said Martin Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post. “It’s an act of intimidation.”

2) A reporter said he was manhandled by a security guard and forced to leave the FCC headquarters during a public hearing on net neutrality last Thursday. John M. Donnelly, a veteran correspondent for CQ Roll Call, said he was trailed by security guards throughout the meeting, despite displaying his press pass and carrying a recorder and notepad, according to a National Press Club news release. The FCC and the security guard in question have since released statements apologizing to Donnelly. The week prior, journalist Dan Heyman was arrested at the West Virginia capitol building while attempting to ask US Health Secretary Tom Price a question.

3) After President Donald Trump received a ceremonial saber from the graduating class at the Coast Guard Academy’s commencement last Wednesday, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly was caught on a hot mic joking, “Use that on the press, sir,” to which Trump laughed and replied, “Yeah, that’s right.” Their exchange followed Trump’s keynote address at the commencement, during which he claimed that no politician has ever been treated “worse or more unfairly” by the media.

4) President Trump is considering decreasing the number of on-camera briefings, according to a senior White House official. This follows President Donald Trump’s threats to cancel future White House press briefings in a pair of tweets on May 12. In an interview with FOX Newsthat same day Trump reiterated this possibility “for the sake of accuracy.” “Well, just don’t have them,” He said. “Unless I have them every two weeks and I do them myself, we don’t have them. I think it’s a good idea.”

5) The American press was excluded on Sunday from a press conference during President Trump's first official visit abroad. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held a press conference in Saudi Arabia with his counterpart, foreign minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, though only foreign journalists were present. A State Department spokesperson apologized and said there was "not enough time to alert or make arrangements for US media to participate."

“RSF is alarmed by the overt hostility President Trump and others in his administration have exhibited toward the press in recent weeks,” says Margaux Ewen, Advocacy and Communications Director for RSF’s North America office. “We are seeing a direct correlation between these hostile remarks and shocking incidents of intimidation and physical force. This is unacceptable in the country of the First Amendment.”

The United States ranks 43rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index after falling 2 places in the last year.

For the latest updates, follow RSF on twitter @RSF_en.

Image credit: SAUL LOEB / AFP