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Update on the United States of America

2018 XpA Scores:
Freedom of Expression – 0.82 Civic Space – 0.80
Digital – 0.75 Media – 0.74
Protection – 0.88 Transparency – 0.89

 

The Expression Agenda Report 17/18 reported on President Donald Trump’s demonisation of the media, and creation of a hostile culture for journalism, amid his cries of ‘fake news’ against legitimate reporting. This behaviour continued into 2018 and beyond.[1]

There is little good news from 2018; President Trump continued as he began, with deteriorations in media safety, source protection, and freedom of information.[2] There has been an escalation in the level of violence aimed at journalists (there were 35 attacks in 2018, affecting 42 journalists – from assaults on reporters to explosives posted to the offices of CNN)[3] and the extent of government actions threatening press freedoms (legal orders and subpoenas leapt from 6 in 2017 to 21 in 2018).[4]

The good news is that there were fewer arrests of journalists – only 11 in 2018, compared to 34 in 2017 – perhaps because fewer demonstrations with mass arrests occurred.[5]

The White House itself blocked access and reporting during 2018. CNN’s Jim Acosta had his press pass withdrawn. After the judiciary ruled this a violation of his free speech,[6] the White House reinstated his pass in November but came up with a restrictive new set of rules for White House correspondents, including restrictions on journalists asking follow-up questions at press conferences.[7]

Restrictions on key journalistic access also extended to local politics; journalists were refused entry to midterm election events, and even polling stations.[8] Much of the ruling party disagrees with Trump’s hostility towards the press,[9] and John McCain himself published a column in January arguing that the President’s words are being closely watched by foreign regimes, and used as an excuse to undermine expression rights in their own countries.[10] Words became actions much closer to home than McCain had imagined when a gunman attacked the Capital Gazette newsroom in Maryland, killing five staff.[11]

Intelligence specialist Reality Winner leaked a report, including evidence of Russian attempts to hack election infrastructure in 2016, to The Intercept online news outlet. The whistleblower was sentenced to more than five years in prison.[12] Four other whistleblowers were charged in 2018 with illegally sharing information with the press.[13] In two cases, federal agencies approached journalists – Ali Watkins and Daniel Kowalski – to try to identify their sources.[14]

Online freedoms took a blow in June, when the Federal Communications Commission repealed net-neutrality rules. These rules had required internet service providers (ISPs) to offer equal access to all web content; ISPs could not discriminate against any lawful content by blocking websites or apps, slowing transmission for certain types of content, or creating ‘fast lanes’ for those who were able to pay more. In the face of this repeal, several states took measures to maintain net neutrality.[15] The US Senate also voted to restrict online speech – forcing platforms to censor their users and endangering sex workers and trafficking victims – with the SESTA/FOSTA laws.[16]

The USA withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council – which US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, called a ‘hypocritical and self-serving organization’ – in June.[17] Iceland took the USA’s position on the Council for the remainder of the term, which finishes at the close of 2019, and did strong work to energise leadership on countries of concern.

 

 

[1] ARTICLE 19, US: Five Journalists Killed in Shocking Attack on Press Freedom, 29 June 2018, available at https://www.article19.org/blog/resources/us-killing-of-five-journalists-a-shocking-attack-on-press-freedom/

[2] ARTICLE 19, Committee to Protect Journalists, Index on Censorship, IFEX, International Press Institute, and Reporters Without Borders, International Press Freedom Mission to the United States, May 2018, available at https://www.article19.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Press-Freedom-Under-Threat-International-Press-Freedom-Mission-to-the-United-States.pdf

[3] Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, A Review of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker 2018, 3 May 2019, available at  https://www.rcfp.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/2018-US-Press-Freedom-Report.pdf

[4] US Press Freedom Tracker, The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in 2018: Year two of documenting attacks on the press in the Trump era, 19/12/2018, available at https://pressfreedomtracker.us/blog/us-press-freedom-tracker-2018-year-two-documenting-attacks-press-trump-era/

[5] Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, A Review of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker 2018, 3 May 2019, available at  https://www.rcfp.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/2018-US-Press-Freedom-Report.pdf

[6] Reporters without Borders, ALERT: US – Judge Rules in Favor of CNN’s Request to Restore Reporter’s Press Pass, 16 November 2018, available at https://rsf.org/en/news/alert-us-judge-rules-favor-cnns-request-restore-reporters-press-pass

[7] Reporters without Borders, US – RSF Concerned by White House’s New Press Rules, 20 November 2018, available at https://rsf.org/en/news/us-rsf-concerned-white-houses-new-press-rules

[8] Reporters without Borders, US – #WeeklyAddress: November 5–November 11: White House Suspends CNN Reporter Jim Acosta’s Press Pass, 13 November 2018, available at https://rsf.org/en/news/us-weeklyaddress-november-5-november-11-white-house-suspends-cnn-reporter-jim-acostas-press-pass

[9] Associated Foreign Press, ‘Republicanos a Trump, Deje de atacar la Prensa’, El Pais, 18 January 2018, available at https://www.elpais.com.uy/mundo/republicanos-trump-deje-atacar-prensa.html

[10] Washington Press, ‘Mr President – stop attacking the press’, Washington Post, 16 January 2018, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/mr-president-stop-attacking-the-press/2018/01/16/9438c0ac-faf0-11e7-a46b-a3614530bd87_story.html?utm_term=.8f40b021c49f

[11] Reporters without Borders, UPDATE: RSF Devastated by Deadly Shooting in Local Maryland Newspaper Office, 28 June 2018, available at https://rsf.org/en/news/update-rsf-devastated-deadly-shooting-local-maryland-newspaper-office

[12] Pen America, Reality Winner Sentence Has Troubling Ramifications For National Security Whistleblowers, Public Information, 23 August 2018, available at https://pen.org/press-release/reality-winner-sentence/

[13] US Press Freedom Tracker, The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in 2018: Year Two of Documenting Attacks on the Press in the Trump Era, 19 December 2018, available at https://pressfreedomtracker.us/blog/us-press-freedom-tracker-2018-year-two-documenting-attacks-press-trump-era/

[14] Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, A Review of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker 2018, 3 May 2019, available at https://www.rcfp.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/2018-US-Press-Freedom-Report.pdf

[15] Keith Collins, ‘Net neutrality has officially been repealed: Here’s how that could affect you’, The New York Times, 11 June 2018, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/11/technology/net-neutrality-repeal.html

[16] Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), How Congress Censored the Internet, 21 March 2018, available at https://www.eff.org/es/deeplinks/2018/03/how-congress-censored-internet

[17] Imogen Foukes, ‘Why did the US leave the UN Human Rights Council?’, BBC News, 20 June 2018, available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-44552304

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