United States

The sharp financial losses afflicting news organizations is forcing a thorough re-examination of how news is covered and who our current and potential audience is. As Newsroom staffs struggle with deep budget cuts and staff reductions of 20-30 percent -- higher in some cases – editors are forced to rethink coverage topics and philosophy. Against this backdrop, U.S. editors must weigh whether to keep investing diminishing staff resources on time-consuming public service functions such as investigative and accountability reporting versus breaking news coverage and 24-7 instant online news requirements. Media’s core values of justifying the privileges bestowed by the First Amendment as government watchdog are being tested as never before. On the legislative front, the major piece of unfinished business for United States press freedom advocates remains passage of the federal “Free Flow of Information Act,” also known as the shield law. The bill overwhelmingly passed the U.S. House of Representatives last October. But the federal shield law bill remains stalled and prospects are dim for passage by the Senate this year. A major impediment is opposition by the Bush Administration. Both the attorney general and national intelligence director say they will urge the president to veto the bill if it passes because of concerns that it may hurt national security and encourage more leaks of classified information; yet the proposed shield legislation in the Senate does not cover reporters who reveal classified information. Press freedom advocates have been urging adoption of the federal law to protect journalists from having to identify confidential sources. Most recently, a bipartisan group of 41 state attorneys general wrote to U.S. Senate leaders supporting a federal shield law because the lack of such a law “undercuts the benefit to the public that states have sought to bestow through their shield laws.” Following are some other noteworthy developments in recent months: In April, Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein was released b the U.S. military after being held for over two years on suspicions of links to insurgents. Hussein was part of an AP team that won a Pulitzer Prize for photography in 2005. No formal charges were ever brought against him and no evidence was produced to support the claims. The AP conducted an extensive investigation and found no evidence. A month before his release, at its mid-year meeting in Caracas in March, IAPA adopted a resolution urging the military to release Hussein or charge him or produce evidence to support the charges against him. In May, Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj was released from Guantanamo Bay after six years of detention. He was charged with running a website with links to Al-Qaeda. According to his lawyer, U.S. interrogators pressed al-Haj to sign documents describing Al Jazeera as a terrorist organization, which he refused. The military commission system to try high-profile detainees at Guantanamo continues to draw fire. Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor in Guantanamo, quit his job late last year and later wrote in the Los Angeles Times that he has “concluded that full, fair and open trials were not possible under the current system.” In August, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, who is overseeing dozens of cases involving Guantanamo detainees, urged the Bush administration to find a way for at least part of the cases to be tried in public. Said Leon: “If it can’t be done, I have great concern that these hearings will be virtually or exclusively classified, closed to the public, and I might add, to the detainees.” In June, the U.S. Justice Department agreed to pay former Army scientist Steven Hatfill $5.2 million to settle his lawsuit. Hatfill had sued the department and various news organizations after then-Attorney General John Ashcroft described him as a "person of interest" in the deadly anthrax mailings of 2001. A federal judge imposed fines on former USA Today reporter Toni Locy for refusing to disclose government sources in stories about Hatfill, and the fines are on appeal. With this settlement, Hatfill's lawyers withdrew their subpoena of Locy to disclose her sources and the federal judge who held her in contempt says he will now withdraw the order.