August 7, 2017

US – #WeeklyAddress July 31-August 6: Sessions to prosecute more leakers

Below are the most notable incidents regarding threats to press freedom in the US during the week of July 31 – August 6:

1. Jeff Sessions says DOJ will review policies on subpoenaing reporters in leak cases

At a press conference on Friday, August 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice has more than tripled the number of leak investigations compared with the number of investigations that were open at the end of the previous administration, and that it will review policies on media subpoenas in leak cases.

Concluding the press conference, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats addressed leakers directly: “If you improperly disclose classified information, we will find you, we will investigate you, we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law, and you will not be happy with the result.”

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said on “Fox News Sunday” that the Justice Department is not targeting journalists. “The attorney general has been very clear that we're after the leakers, not the journalists," he said.

Sessions’ announcement comes about a month after a number of Senate Republicans on the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs issued a report claiming media leaks under the current administration are a threat to national security.

2. Amid culture of hostility toward reporters, press freedom organizations launch website tracking abuses

RSF joined a coalition of more than 20 press freedom organizations to launch the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker on Wednesday August 2. The tracker, a nonpartisan website documenting abuses of U.S. press freedom, is led by the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and serves as a repository for this data at a time when the media climate in the United States has become increasingly hostile. RSF sits on the steering committee for the collaborative project.

Data collected on the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker shows 19 journalists have been arrested in the course of their work in 2017 and at least 10 are currently facing charges; at least four journalists have been stopped at the border; and 11 have faced physical attacks.

3. Every White House press briefing for the past two weeks has been on-air

After several weeks in which reporters voiced concerns about off-camera White House press briefings, every briefing since July 21 has been on-camera. This is consistent with former Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci’s tweet on July 24 that “TV cameras are back on,” which he later confirmed was a reference to press briefings.

For three weeks prior to July 21, reporters had taken issue with the bans on video and audio recordings. Reporter Ksenija Pavlovic disregarded the audio ban on July 19 by live streaming audio of the briefing on the Twitter account for her online news outlet, Pavlovic Today, and Fox News reporter John Roberts left a briefing prior to its conclusion the day before.

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