April 15, 2019

US – #WeeklyAddress: April 8 – 14: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrested in London on behalf of US

Justin Tallis / AFP
Below are the most notable incidents regarding threats to press freedom in the US during the week of April 8 – April 14:

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrested in London on behalf of US

Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, was arrested by police in London on April 11 on a US extradition warrant. Assange had been living at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since he took asylum there in 2012. Hours after being extradited from the embassy, the US Department of Justice charged Assange with one count of “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion,” related to an attempt in 2010 to help whistleblower Chelsea Manning hack a government computer to obtain classified information. Assange is awaiting extradition charges at London’s Belmarsh Prison. For more on this, read RSF’s publication: “RSF calls on the UK to protect role of journalistic sources in treatment of Julian Assange.”



Representative Devin Nunes sues McClatchy newspaper chain over alleged “character assassination”

California Republican Congressman Devin Nunes filed a defamation lawsuit against the  McClatchy Company for $150 million on April 8. Nunes is accusing the company, which owns the local newspaper The Fresno Bee, of “character assassination” after it published a story in 2018 detailing a 2016 lawsuit against a winery that counts Nunes as an investor. The winery allegedly held a yacht party at which investors used cocaine and solicited sex workers. Nunes claims he was never at the party but that, “McClatchy succeeded in linking the cocaine/sex-fueled ‘fundraiser’ with ‘prostitutes’ to Nunes.” On April 10 on Fox and Friends,Nunes said, "Now we’re looking at McClatchy but we’re actually going to go after several news media outlets. McClatchy’s CEO Craig Formanhas called the defamation lawsuit a “baseless attack on local journalism and a free press.” In March, Nunes sued Twitter and some individual Twitter users for more than $250 million, accusing them of defamation. In an interviewwith CNN’s Brian Stelter, Forman said this lawsuit indicates, “an increasing use of the legal system to go after local news.”



President Trump targets NBC News, New York Times, and Politico in “fake news” Twitter rant

US President Donald Trump continued his anti-media campaign by addressing various news publications as “corrupt” and “fake.”  The president tweeted that an April 13 New York Times story about a Trump administration proposal to send migrants to sanctuary cities was “knowingly wrong on almost every fact” and alleged that the Times had never called the White House to confirm facts. The Times’White House correspondent Maggie Haberman responded on Twitter confirming the newspaper had reached out to the press team  “three times for comment and [the] press office acknowledged receipt of emails.” A day prior on April 12, President Trump accused Politicoof using “made up sources” on a story covering his visit to Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and said NBC’s “fake story” on homeland security, supported by the Times, proved that “Mainstream Media is corrupt and getting worse.” And despite a statement from the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association questioning sources, Politicohas not commented or corrected their reporting.



Military stores asked to censor “divisive” news on in-store televisions

An April 8 memo issued by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service suggested that, “due to their divisive political nature,” news channels should no longer air on common area televisions in military base malls, food courts, and customer service centers. The Exchange, the retail and service operations for US army personnel, will opt to play sports programming instead. The original memo included a subject line that read “Change in TV Policy” but was later updated on April 10 as a “general guidance” or suggestion rather than an official policy change. Spokesman Chris Ward said the memo came after various complaints from visitors and service members demanding the televisions show FoxNewsor CNN.



The United States ranks 45th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index



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