United States

Press freedom issues in this period were dominated by several recurring themes, related to government secrecy and access to official sources, financial and legal issues related to the growth of online media (both traditional news media and new social media), and the safety of foreign correspondents, especially in the new Mid East hotspots. Nevertheless, this period was dominated by the controversy over WikiLeaks, site that revealed thousands of confidential US diplomatic documents, which US Government said jeopardized foreign relations with other Governments around the world. Late last year US government put pressure on WikiLeaks website's host server, Amazon.com, to shut down the site. The website's host Amazon.com blocked access to WikiLeaks after US officials condemned the leak of classified government documents that have provided unprecedented access to detailed information from official US sources, much of it embarrassing to leading public figures. The Justice department also ordered Twitter to hand over details of users linked to WikiLeaks. A district court in Alexandria, Virginia, sent Twitter a subpoena signed by federal magistrate Theresa Buchanan on 14 December asking for “relevant” information about users suspected of links with WikiLeaks for an “ongoing criminal investigation.” The subpoena requests information dating back to November 2009 about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, soldier Bradley Manning, Rop Gonggrijp, a Dutch citizen who used to work with WikiLeaks; Jacob Appelbaum, a US computer programmer; and Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of the Icelandic parliament and former WikiLeaks volunteer. The range of information requested from Twitter by the Department of Justice is extraordinary. It includes all the records of Tweets and conversations between users, IP addresses, email addresses and postal addresses, and all “means and source of payment” including bank account and credit card details. Access to exchanges between users and the possibility of accounts being jointly managed mean investigators will have the chance to identify new “suspects.” On 2 March that the US Army filed 22 new charges against Army private Manning. His lawyer, David E. Coombs tweeted that the most serious of the new charges was “Aiding the enemy - giving intelligence to the enemy,” which could potentially result in the death penalty or life behind bars. Other charges, according to The New York Times, include “wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet, knowing that it was accessible to the enemy, multiple counts of theft of public records, transmitting defense information and computer fraud.” Some accuse the US of a double standard after an aborted investigation into government officials who destroyed CIA videos recordings of prisoner interrogations in Guantanamo and a secret prison in Thailand. In November 2010 a federal prosecutor decided not to file charges against any of the CIA officers who destroyed 92 videos of interrogations in secret CIA prisons. The decision was considered by many a setback to the search for truth in a matter of public interest and to the public's right of access to official information. This decision is all the more incomprehensible as the CIA itself acknowledged in March 2009 that it destroyed the 92 videos. By not granting access to the photos and documents about the US Army’s abuses, the Obama administration reversed its original position. The memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act that the president issued on 21 January 2009, the day after Obama’s inauguration, said that “speculative” or “abstract fears” were not sufficient reasons to justify excessive confidentiality and classification. In January, shortly before controversial portions of the USA Patriot Act were set to expire, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) reintroduced a reauthorization bill that would restore protections for reader privacy that were eliminated by the Patriot Act in 2001. The Leahy bill, S. 193, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2009 when Congress last considered reauthorization, but never received a vote by the full Senate. The expiring provisions of the Patriot Act were extended for one year without any changes. S. 193 provides important safeguards for library records, limiting FBI searches to the records of people who are "agents of a foreign power," including suspected terrorists, and people known to them. This heightened protection would eliminate the danger of the federal government using its broad search power to conduct fishing expeditions into what people are reading. The Patriot Act currently authorizes the FBI to search any records that are "relevant" to a terrorist investigation, including the records of people who are not suspected of criminal conduct. The Associated Press conducted a survey which found that efforts to boost openness in government often are being thwarted by old patterns of secrecy. The survey did find signs of progress in a number of states, especially in technological efforts to make much more information available online. But there also are restrictions being put in place for recent electronic trends, such as limits on access to officials' text messages. A Knight Open Government Survey by the National Security Archive also found that nearly half of federal agencies lag in responding to FOIA information requests. On his first day in office in January 2009, President Barack Obama issued a presidential memorandum instructing federal agencies to “usher in a new era of open government.” In March 2010, however, the 2010 Knight Open Government Survey found that only 13 out of 90 agencies had actually made concrete changes in their FOIA procedures. This year, the 2011 Knight Open Government Survey found that a few more than half of the federal agencies have complied – up from 13 to 49. Dangers to journalists covering the violence in Libya and the uprising Egypt has taken its toll on reporters recently. Journalists were directly targeted by former President Hosni Mubrarak's government during the Egyptian revolution. When CBS correspondent Lara Logan, 39, was separated from her TV crew in Cairo, Egypt, was beaten and sexually assaulted by a Cairo mob after Mubarak’s resignation. CNN’s Anderson Cooper was also seen on camera being pummeled by angry Egyptians. Since Libya's revolt began in February, the Committee to Protect Journalists has documented more than 50 attacks on the press, including two fatalities, more than 33 detentions, five assaults, two attacks on news facilities, numerous instances of equipment confiscation, three cases of obstruction, the jamming of at least two satellite news transmissions, and the interruption of Internet service. Several reporters, among them four from The New York Times, were detained in Libya and later expelled. Getty Images photographer Joe Raedle, Agence France Presse photographer Roberto Schmidt, and reporter Dave Clark were en route to Libya's eastern region when they were abducted. Four soldiers ordered the journalists out of their vehicle at gunpoint. Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite television says four of its journalists, including a Norwegian and a Briton, were held in Tripoli after being arrested in Libya's west. Mohammed al-Nabbous, 28, who founded a Libyan online news channel, was shot dead by snipers in Saturday while Benghazi was under attack from Mr Gaddafi's forces. BBC journalists have also been arrested and tortured in Libya and an Al Jazeera cameraman was killed documenting the violence. In a victory for privacy and the rule of law, a federal appeals court on March 21 reinstated a landmark lawsuit challenging a statute (the FISA Amendments Act (FAA)) that gives the executive branch virtually unchecked power to collect Americans' international e-mails and telephone calls. The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of a broad coalition of attorneys and human rights, labor, legal and media organizations whose work requires them to engage in sensitive and sometimes privileged telephone and e-mail communications with colleagues, clients, journalistic sources, witnesses, experts, foreign government officials and victims of human rights abuses located outside the United States. A federal district court dismissed the case in August 2009, ruling that the plaintiffs did not have the right to challenge the new surveillance law because they could not prove that their own communications had been monitored under it. On March 21 the appeals court reversed the lower court decision, finding that the plaintiffs have standing to challenge the law even though they cannot show to a certainty that the government is acquiring their communications. Several press freedom groups expressed concern over the inauspicious beginning in the working relationship between Florida Governor Rick Scott and the press assigned to cover official events. IAPA called for "clear rules" by the state that meet constitutional obligations with regard to information. A group of correspondents covering government acts in the state capital of Tallahassee, filed complaints with the Florida Society of News Editors citing unprecedented controls over access to the governor, his public activities, and discrimination in the distribution of public information. Scott assumed the governorship on January 4. The journalists cited a series of incidents, including the governor's team's failure to advice about upcoming public events, limitations and denial of access to official acts, and discrimination in the selection of which members of the press and media attend events. They also reported delays in the distribution of official information. Two journalists from the Moscow-based broadcast outlet Russia Today were arrested on November 20 2010 while covering a protest against the U.S. military training center formerly known as the "School of the Americas" at Fort Benning, Georgia. On-air correspondent Kaelyn Forde and cameraman Jon Conway, both of whom are U.S. citizens, were charged with unlawful assembly, demonstrating without a permit, and failing to obey police orders, according to The Associated Press. They were both held for 29 hours before each was released on a US$1,300 bond. In a video that was later posted on YouTube, officers can be seen arresting Kaelyn Forde. She repeatedly apologized to officers, said she moved when asked, and asked why she was being arrested as two officers forced her hands behind her back and put on plastic wrist cuffs. Forde later appeared on Russia Today saying she was treated aggressively by police and showed bruises on her arms from what she said was rough handling. The YouTube video shows Forde being compliant as she persisted in asking officers why she was being arrested. The Russia Today television crew was covering a nonviolent demonstration outside Fort Benning, which includes the U.S. military training center previously called the School of the Americas and now renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Protesters have gathered annually over the past 20 years to demonstrate against the U.S. military training facility since former School of the Americas students from El Salvador were implicated in the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests. The number of Americans who got news and information via the internet has for the first time surpassed the printed media, according to the Pew Center for Excellence in the Media. TV news has also been impacted, including CNN which has lost a substantial share of its audience in peak time. In 2010 the number of people who used the web three times a week or more to see the news rose to 47%, compared to 40% for newspapers. Also last year, for the first time income from web publishing exceeded print advertising. Web advertising hit $25.8 billion last year, compared to only $22.8 billion for newspapers. Almost half of Americans (47%) get news on mobile devices. About 7% already have a tablet. Media ad revenue overall fell 6.4% last year, compared to 2009, while print circulation fell 5%.