United States

IAPA Midyear Meeting 2016
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
April 8-11

As the campaign for the presidential elections scheduled for November heated up journalists covering it found themselves victims of attacks. Meanwhile press freedom and the people's right to privacy were in dispute with a controversial attempt to unlock encrypted data.

The campaign manager of presidential Republican candidate Donald Trump, Corey Lewandowski, was arrested and charged with simple battery on former Breibart reporter Michelle Fields after he had allegedly grabbed her as she sought to question Trump following a press conference.

This came after the National Press Club raised concerns about what it said were increasing attacks on and threats to journalists covering the U.S. presidential campaign. It urged the candidates and their teams to support freedom of the press and to respect journalists.

"The United States should be an example for the rest of the world in how we protect the right of journalists to report," said National Press Club President Thomas Burr.

The Justice Department was locked in a 43-day battle against communications company Apple over its demand that it help the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) try to get into an iPhone used by a Callifornian gunman accused of having carried out multiple killings. The government later officially withdrew from the battle after an unidentified entity enabled the investigators to crack the encryption. The case raised privacy issues nationwide in a discussion in which the government had sought to challenge the encryption used in tech products, on the grounds that it obstructed its capability to access information vital in criminal and terrorist investigations. But a group of tech companies – including Google, Facebook, Amazon, Cisco, Microsoft, Mozilla, Snapchat, Box, Slack, Yahoo, Intel and AT&T– and researchers and cryptographers backed Apple in making sure data is secure as possible from prying eyes.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) went on to join a petition urging President Barack Obama to publicly commit the United States to a policy of supporting strong encryption. The petition was also supported by 30 press freedom and digital rights groups. The CPJ called encryption a vital tool for protecting journalists and news organizations by making it less easy for authoritarian states to hack into computer systems and devices.

Former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling, in a Denver, Colorado, prison since June last year in a three-and-a-half-year term having been convicted of espionage, should be given a presidential pardon his wife, Holly, declared, with support from other whistleblowers and more than 100,000 petition signers. Sterling was alleged to have collaborated with New York Times journalist James Risen in leaking details of a CIA plot against an Iranian nuclear program. The organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) was among those supporting Mrs. Sterling's petition, along with such other organizations as Freedom of the Press Foundation, Center for Media and Democracy, Restore the Fourth and Free Press and the magazine The Nation.

For several months journalists and fellow petitioners sought to have access to a video showing a Chicago police officer killing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. City officials finally released it. Among those seeking this was the Chicago Tribune newspaper, which filed three separate initially denied Freedom of Information Act requests to Chicago's law department, police department and Police Review Authority Board.

Two legislative bills under discussion in the Virginia General Assembly have sought to prevent journalists from easily accessing data on state and local government employees. Its passage would have the potential to significantly damage the ability of the press to hold pubic officials accountable. "Democracy depends on transparency and accountability," National Press Club President Thomas Burr declared in opposing the bills.

As relations between the United States and Cuba eased Google announced it is working to bring high-speed Internet to the island. It said it was looking at various ways to expand and improve Internet access there. Meanwhile the Cuban state telecom agency Etecsa announced it has granted approval to artist Kcho to open at his cultural center the country's first public wireless hub. Kcho said he now plans to offer free Internet access at the center.

In another new development the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) announced it is launching what it called a groundbreaking program to bring independent Cuban journalists to work with their counterparts in Miami-based newsrooms to create a peer-to-peer learning network. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is providing a $110,000 support. "This collaboration will enrich coverage in both countries," said ICFJ President Joyce Barnathan.

In November television reporter Jack Highberger, of the Fox affiliate KMSP-TV was among people arrested on a Minnesota highway as police broke up a protest over an officer-involved shooting in that city.

A request by Shoshana Walter with the Center for Investigative Reporting for access to public records at the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department on a rogue firearms instructor was initially unceremoniously denied, then later granted.