March 11, 2019

US - #WeeklyAddress: March 4 - March 10: Leaked database reveals US government secretly tracking journalists at US-Mexico border

Below are the most notable incidents regarding threats to press freedom in the US during the week of March 4 - March 10:

Leaked database reveals US government secretly tracking journalists at US-Mexico border

The United States government created a secret database on journalists, activists and others that they believe should be stopped for questioning when crossing border checkpoints in the San Diego area, according to leaked documents news channel NBC 7 in San Diego published on March 6. They list the names of nearly 60 people, including 10 mostly American journalists, that had been investigating or providing aid to the migrant caravan that arrived at the border from Honduras. Agents have questioned or arrested at least 21 of those individuals, according to interviews with those individuals and documents obtained by NBC News station KNSD-TV. Some had alerts placed on their passports, and at least three photojournalists were denied entry to Mexico. For more information, read RSF’s publication on the subject: “US – Leaked database shows US government has been secretly monitoring journalists at US-Mexico border.”



Chelsea Manning jailed for refusing to testify on Wikileaks

A federal District Court judge ordered former US army intelligence analyst and government whistleblower Chelsea Manning into custody on March 8 for refusing to testify as part of an investigation into WikiLeaks, the website to which Manning shared information in 2010 exposing the crimes and brutalities committed by the US military during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. She will remain in detention until agreeing to testify before a grand jury or until the grand jury no longer operates. Manning previously served seven years in prison before former President Barack Obama commuted her 35-year sentence. She was released in 2017. For more information, read RSF’s publication on the subject: “US – Chelsea Manning sent to jail for refusing to testify on Wikileaks.”



Judge denies Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez-Soto’s asylum appeal

The attorney for Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez-Soto filed a final appeal on March 7 after Judge Robert Hough denied Gutierrez’s asylum request on February 28, reaffirming an earlier ruling that the Board of Immigration Appeals had asked the judge to reconsider. Despite new evidence provided by the State Department and press freedom organizations regarding the dangerous situation for journalists in Mexico—one of the main arguments Gutierrez’s attorney cited—Judge Hough dismissed the threats Gutierrez has received from the Mexican authorities as merely “adverse experiences.”

Gutierrez originally fled Mexico with his son Oscar in 2008 after being placed on a military kill list and was targeted for exposing corruption and abuse by the Mexican military. He has been a Knight-Wallace fellow at the University of Michigan’s journalism school since being released in July from a Texas detention center where he and his son had been detained for nearly eight months.



US State Department revokes award from journalist who criticized President Trump

The US State Department rescinded an award offer to honor Finnish investigative journalist Jessikka Aro as a consequence of her criticism of President Donald Trump, according to a Foreign Policy (FP) article published on March 7. The State Department notified Aro in January that she would be receiving the International Women of Courage Award for her work exposing the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company that spreads online propaganda. A few weeks later, however, the State Department told Aro she wouldn’t be receiving the award after all, calling it “a regrettable error.” US officials familiar with the situation said the State Department chose to rescind Aro’s award after officials searched through her social media posts and found she was often critical of President Trump. Aro told FP she was “appalled and shocked” by the abrupt change of heart. “The reality in which political decisions or presidential pettiness directs top U.S. diplomats’ choices over whose human rights work is mentioned in the public sphere and whose is not is a really scary reality,” Aro said.



In California, three reporters detained, released while covering protest

Sacramento police detained a journalist and arrested two more on Monday evening during a protest over a prosecutor’s decision not to charge the police who shot and killed an unarmed black man last year. Among those detained or arrested were newspaper reporters Dale Kasler of The Sacramento Bee, Scott Rodd of The Sacramento Business Journal, and student journalist William Coburn of the The State Hornet, a student publication at Sacramento State University. For more information, read RSF’s publication: “US - Journalists temporarily detained, arrested at protest against police killing of Stephon Clark.”



Democratic National Committee bars Fox News from primary debate coverage

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced on March 6 that it has chosen to exclude Fox News from hosting any Democratic primary debates this upcoming presidential election season, citing a recent New Yorker article by reporter Jane Mayer that details the network’s close ties to the Trump administration. In a statement first published in The Washington Post, DNC Chairman Tom Perez said the New Yorker article led him to conclude “the network is not in a position to host a fair and neutral debate for our candidates.” The decision inspired strong reactions on all sides of the political media spectrum. Some say they support the DNC’s decision, arguing that Fox should not be considered a typical news organization and arguing that it actively works against the Democratic party interests. Others call the move an insult to the journalists reporting for Fox, and say that not reaching the Fox audience will work to the detriment of the Democratic candidates. Fox hasn’t held a Democratic primary debate since 2004, though it did host a 2016 town hall with presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.



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



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