November 27, 2017

US — #WeeklyAddress November 20 – 26: Trial commences for journalist facing up to 60 years in prison

Below are the most notable incidents regarding threats to press freedom in the US during the week of November 20 – 26:

Trial begins for photojournalist arrested during Inauguration protests

On Monday, November 20, freelance photojournalist Alexei Wood began his trial for multiple felonies after he was arrested during events that took place on January 20 in Washington, DC. He was arrested along with a number of other journalists and protesters, in a police kettle while covering groups protesting the inauguration of President Trump. Woods potentially faces up to 60 years in prison if found guilty of his charges, which include rioting, conspiracy to riot, inciting others to riot, and property destruction. In her opening statements to the court on Monday, Assistant US Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff claimed “You don’t personally have to be the one who breaks the window to be guilty of rioting.” Aaron Cantu, a New Mexico-based journalist who was also arrested while documenting protests during President Trump’s inauguration, started his trial in October. Cantu could face 70 years in prison.

FCC announces plans to repeal Net Neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced its plans to repeal federal regulations commonly known as Net Neutrality on Tuesday, November 21. Net Neutrality ensures that the government and Internet service providers treat all data equally, and prohibits discrimination based on specific websites and online users. FCC chairman Ajit Pai announced that the FCC plans to vote on the repeal on December 14. Critics of the repeal worry that the lack of regulations would allow internet service providers to reroute people to the sites and search engines they own, having enormous consequences on the free flow of information and the plurality of voices online. One notable critic includes Julian Assange, who tweeted at President Trump on Tuesday, urging him to reconsider repealing the law. His tweets claimed that his “opponents control most internet companies” and the lack of net neutrality could cause the President’s tweets to lag behind CNN’s tweets.

DOJ sues AT&T to prevent merger with Time Warner

On Monday, November 20, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against AT&T, DirectTV, and Time Warner, claiming their planned merger would violate antitrust laws. DOJ officials told reporters that the lawsuit was filed due to concerns that the merger would stifle competition and lead to higher costs for American consumers. Reports have circulated speculating that the DOJ’s opposition to the AT&T-Time Warner merger could be politically motivated, due to the President’s dislike of CNN, which is owned by Time Warner. During a press conference on Monday, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson vowed to fight the lawsuit and stated "We cannot and we will not be party to any agreement that would give even the perception of compromising the first amendment protection of the press. So any agreement that results in us forfeiting control of CNN, whether directly, or indirectly, is a nonstarter." On Tuesday, President Trump commented on the merger, stating that its success “is not good for the country.” The Trump administration and the DOJ have both denied political motives behind opposition of the merger, yet Trump tweeted insults at both CNN and CNN International on Saturday November 25, accusing the network of misrepresenting the US internationally and spreading “fake news.”

Trump bars White House press pool at Mar-A-Lago meetings

During his five-day trip to his Mar-A-Lago golf resort in West Palm Beach, Florida from November 21 to 26, President Trump held a number of meetings, for which he denied access to the White House press pool. Ahead of his visit, the president tweeted that he would be holding “meetings and working the phones from the Winter White House in Florida (Mar-A-Lago),” but neither he nor his aides disclosed who the president was golfing with or which meetings were being held. Additionally, the press were not invited into the golf club, and were kept across the street where they were unable to see and interact with the president.

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.

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