May 13, 2019

US – #WeeklyAddress: May 6 – May 12: San Francisco journalist says police raided his home after he refused to identify source

Below are the most notable incidents regarding threats to press freedom in the US during the week of May 6 – May 12:

San Francisco journalist says police raided his home after he refused to identify source

Police raided freelance journalist Bryan Carmodys San Francisco home on May 10 and seized his equipment after he refused to reveal to them a confidential source. Two weeks prior, police appeared at Carmody’s house asking for the identity of a source who had shown Carmody a confidential police report following the February death of the city’s public defender. About ten police reportedly entered Carmody’s house on Friday morning with a sledgehammer and a warrant claiming they were investigating “stolen or embezzled” property. He refused to disclose the identity of his source to the police or to FBI agents who questioned him about the case. He was then handcuffed for six hours as police ransacked his home with guns drawn and seized his electronic devices, taking at least four tablets, seven computers, 10 hard drives, a dozen phones and two cameras, as well as notebooks Carmody used while reporting. They eventually found the police report in a safe in Carmody’s home. While San Francisco Police Department defended its actions in a statement, calling the raid “one step in the process of investigating a potential case of obstruction of justice,” press freedom advocates have raised concerns that the raid was in violation of California’s Shield Law.



Former government intelligence analyst has been charged with leaking classified information

Daniel Hale, a former government intelligence analyst who worked for the National Security Agency (NSA) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, was arrested on May 9 and charged in a federal court under the Espionage Act with five crimes related to the disclosure of classified information. This is the third whistleblower the Trump administration has prosecuted under the Espionage Act. Though the reporter Hale shared information with is not named in the indictment, his description matches that of Jeremy Scahill, one of the founding editors of The Intercept, an investigative news website. For more on this, read RSF’s publication: US – Trump administration prosecutes third whistleblower under Espionage Act.



White House continues to limit press access

As it continues to set a record for the number of days without holding an official press briefing, the Trump administration has enforced new rules limiting access to White House press passes altogether. The new rules state that no credentials will be given to journalists who do not come to the White House at least 90 out of the previous 180 days, claiming the new rules ensure a heightened level of security. For veteran journalist Dana Milbank of The Washington Post, this meant White House officials revoked the hard press pass he has held for the past 21 years. He was one of eight Washington Post reporters whose press passes were revoked, although his colleagues were granted exceptions not long after losing them. Milbank wrote in a May 8 op-ed that the White House offered him and other reporters whose credentials were revoked a limited six-month pass. The White House also barred reporters from attending a cabinet meeting on May 8 that was initially open to the press according to a tweet from NBC’s Peter Alexander. As of May 12, it has been 62 days since Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders held an on-camera press briefing in the White House. Sanders has only held two official briefings in 2019.



Connecticut reporter detained while covering protest

Police detained reporter Tara O’Neill on May 9 while she covered a demonstration. O’Neill, who works for Hearst Connecticut Media, was covering a protest in Bridgeport, Connecticut, marking the second anniversary of a police shooting that killed a 15-year-old boy. When officers ordered everyone off the street during the protest, O’Neill identified herself as a journalist, but was still handcuffed and taken to police headquarters. She was detained for about 30 minutes and eventually released without charge. “The fact that a local journalist was arrested for doing her job and reporting on the actions of police and protesters is extremely troubling,” said Matt DeRienzo, vice president of news and digital content for Hearst Connecticut Media. “The public deserves a full explanation of how it happened and what steps will be taken to make sure that the freedom of the press and the public’s right to know is not infringed upon like this in the future.” There was no comment from the police department.



FOIA restrictions would shield DC officials who use email for personal business

Lawmakers in Washington, DC, are proposing a change in the city’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) law that grant any person the right to request access to federal agency records or information. The proposed changes would restrict records requests for government emails to matters relating only to official business, excluding personal emails and conversations. The proposal would also allow DC government agencies to reject requests that don’t include specific details about the documents being requested. There are concerns that these proposals could prevent the general public and reporters from exposing ethical breaches in which government officials mix public and private business. The DC Council chairman, who proposed the legislation, said the change is aimed at lowering the number of FOIA requests received, which have put “an increasing burden on our general counsel.”

The United States ranks 48th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index.


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