United States

The fight for access to information on public records and to courts proceedings in Guantanamo, were the major issues this period. In an important decision for transparency in government and media access to court proceedings, a Delaware law allowing judges to preside over secret arbitration in business disputes was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in August. The Delaware Coalition for Open Government had argued that the secret proceedings violated the rights of citizens, including the media, to attend judicial proceedings and access court records. Several media organizations, including The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, submitted a brief supporting the coalition. Delaware is the corporate home for thousands of U.S. companies and the state’s Chancery Court often presides over high-profile business disputes involving some of the world's largest corporations. On another case, media and civil liberties lawyers are seeking greater openness at Guantanamo in the death-penalty case of five alleged conspirators in the Sept. 11 attacks. A group of 14 media groups and the American Civil Liberties Union separately filed motions protesting protective orders that shield the public from access to secret information in the case. The motion seeks to challenge censorship of witnesses and defendants under the court system that uses a 40-second delay of the proceedings to allow an intelligence official to impose “white noise” over any statement describing what CIA agents did to captives before their transfer to Guantanamo. The motion is backed by The McClatchy Company, ABC Inc., The Associated Press, Bloomberg News, CBS Broadcasting Inc., Fox News Network, National Public Radio, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Reuters, Tribune Company, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. In September Google decided to block access in several countries to the controversial film, "Innocence of Muslims," blamed for inciting violence across nations in the Arab and Muslim world. Google "temporarily restricted" access to the film in Libya and Egypt "given the very difficult situation" in the two countries, the company said. Google pulled the video in India and Indonesia because it violated local laws there, and yanked it in Malaysia on Monday after authorities asked to have it blocked because of the "explosive commotions and repercussions at hand." Critics of Google’s decision say it sets a dangerous precedent that opens the door for more censorship in the future. Media watchdogs have called on Syrian authorities to releases U.S. freelance journalist Austin Tice who is believed to be in government custody. Tice, 31, a freelance photojournalist who was covering the conflict for The Washington Post, and McClatchy Newspapers, was detained by government forces in the outskirts of Damascus, Syria. He last e-mailed colleagues on Aug 13 and later appeared blindfolded in a 47-second video that on YouTube entitled, “Austin Tice Still Alive.” The video shows him accompanied by armed men marching up a hill. Two other journalists working for the U.S. government-funded Al-Hurra television broadcaster went missing on August 20. At least 19 journalists have been killed covering the Syrian conflict during the last year. Robert Stolarik, a photographer for the New York Times, was beaten, handcuffed and had his equipment seized while covering the arrest of a 16-year-old girl during an Occupy Wall St. protest in New York on Aug 4. He faces criminal charges of obstructing government administration and resisting arrest. His court date is set for 29 November. Police on the scene ordered Stolarik to stop taking pictures. He identified himself as a journalist working for the Times and was handcuffed, thrown to the ground and kicked before being taken to a police precinct. Adam Mueller, founder of the online police accountability news site CopBlock, was found guilty in August of illegal wiretapping and sentenced to three months in jail. Mueller was covering an incident at a school in Manchester, New Hampsire involving video of a 17-year-old being taken from his seat in the school's cafeteria by a school police officer and slammed face-first into a table. Mueller interviewed their school principal, a secretary and a police officer, informing them that he was a journalist. Those interviewed say they didn’t know they were being recorded, which is illegal under state law. In August, Ecuadorian journalist Emilio Palacio was granted political asylum here in the United States. In February of 2011, Palacio wrote a scathing editorial in El Universo newspaper in which he called Correa a "dictator" and suggesting that the president by put in prison for allegedly ordering police officers to open fire on civilians. Correa publicly accused Palacio and three others at the paper of defamation. An Ecuadorian court later sentenced Palacio to three years in prison and ordered El Universo to pay a $40 million fine. Palacio fled to the US and requested asylum, arguing that he was being persecuted for his political beliefs and his exercise of free speech in an opposition newspaper.