freedom of the press

New Net Neutrality Order Is a Nadir for the First Amendment & Internet Freedom

censored press

If a court affirms the FCC’s ruling that broadband Internet service providers (ISPs) have no right to exercise editorial discretion over Internet transmissions on their networks, the First Amendment could not stop the government from censoring the transmissions of end users on ISP networks.

The First Amendment is premised on a simple idea: Ensuring mass media communications are free of government control is a “precondition to enlightened self-government and a necessary means to protect it.” Though this principle should be obvious, it has been lost in application to the Internet age. In its recent order adopting net neutrality rules and reclassifying Internet access as a common carrier service subject to telephone regulation (“Net Neutrality Order”), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) concluded that Internet transmissions on networks operated by broadband Internet service providers are not entitled to protection from government control. According to the FCC, the transmission of Internet communications is not constitutionally protected speech, because it is not “inherently expressive.” The FCC relied on this conclusion to justify its decision to regulate the Internet as if it were a plain old telephone network that transmits only common carrier communications.

Unprecedented: Media assails Obama’s “politically-driven suppression of the news”

Obama Transparency

President Obama announced to the world in a Google Hangout in February 2013 that his administration was “the most transparent administration in history.” But Americans and the press aren’t fooled. Josh Hicks at the Washington Post noted the Obama administration’s transparency problems back in March of this year:

An Associated Press analysis of federal data found that the Obama administration has grown more secretive over time, last year censoring or outright denying FOIA access to government files more than ever since Obama took office.

The administration has also cited more legal exceptions to justify withholding materials and refused to turn over newsworthy files quickly, and most agencies took longer to answer records requests, according to the AP study.

Now that Obama’s transparency claims have been thoroughly debunked, and — as the AP analysis reveals — the administration is actually becoming more secretive, what will the press do?

For most of Obama’s time in office, the press has been incredibly lenient, covering Obama favorably when possible. Accuracy in Media called the media’s coverage of Obama a “love affair” in a post last year, and Fred Barnes likened press coverage to a “four-year honeymoon” around the same time.

Hillary’s biggest foe in 2016: The Press?

POLITICO published two pieces focused on President Obama and prospective 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s relationships with the press.

In “The White House Beat, Uncovered,” POLITCO asked members of the White House press corps to describe their experience dealing with the Obama Administration and charted their responses on a massive infographic. My description here won’t do the image justice, so I encourage you to check it out.

Highlights:

NY Times reporter calls Obama administration the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation

Recent reports from the Associated Press and Cause of Action have explained in great detail that President Barack Obama hasn’t come close to living up to promises of greater transparency, a result of the White House’s effort to control information requested by the press that could prove to be a political headache or embarrassing.

The administration’s obsession of controlling of information isn’t limited to what documents are released. It also extends to how the administration tries to control the press, as James Risen, a reporter for The New York Times, recently explained at a conference (emphasis added):

New York Times reporter James Risen, who is fighting an order that he testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer accused of leaking information to him, opened the conference earlier by saying the Obama administration is “the greatest enemy of press freedom that we have encountered in at least a generation.” The administration wants to “narrow the field of national security reporting,” Risen said, to “create a path for accepted reporting.” Anyone journalist who exceeds those parameters, Risen said, “will be punished.”

The administration’s aggressive prosecutions have created “a de facto Official Secrets Act,” Risen said, and the media has been “too timid” in responding.

Today in Liberty: CPAC 2014 kicks off today, Crimea to hold secession referendum, NSA chief threatens press

“Sometimes you have to beat the Republicans before you beat the Democrats.” — Matt Kibbe

— Happy Anniversary, Rand Paul!: One year ago today, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) made history in the Senate by with a 13-hour talking filibuster against John Brennan’s CIA nomination. Though it didn’t stop Brennan’s confirmation, it did raise awareness to the Obama administration’s drone strikes policy and, almost single-handedly, changed public opinion on the issue. You see our coverage of the filibuster here and here. You can also watch the filibuster, if you have 13 hours to spare, in full via C-SPAN.

Stand With Rand

— CPAC  2014 begins today: The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the largest annual gathering of conservatives, will begin this morning at 9 am with a speech from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Other speakers today include Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). C-SPAN will air part of today’s events, beginning at 12:40 pm. Politico has a list of things to watch for this weekend.

FCC dumps peculiar newsroom study

A little more than a week after FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai exposed a study on how news stations and papers select and cover stories, which could pose problems for freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment, the Federal Communications Commission decided to squash the initiative. Well, sort of:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is pulling the plug on a controversial study that critics warned would have threatened the First Amendment right to freedom of the press.

A spokeswoman with the commission said on Friday that a pilot version of the study would be suspended and redesigned so that journalists would not have to answer the FCC’s questions about their work.

“To be clear, media owners and journalists will no longer be asked to participate in the Columbia, S.C., pilot study,” Shannon Gilson said in a statement.

“The pilot will not be undertaken until a new study design is final. Any subsequent market studies conducted by the FCC, if determined necessary, will not seek participation from or include questions for media owners, news directors or reporters.”
[…]
The pilot study would have asked journalists about their “news philosophy” and the way that they selected stories.

Though the FCC regulates the airwaves, the basis of the study was concerning. It brought reminders of the “Fairness Doctrine,” a policy that was entirely inconsistent with the right to free speech and officially axed by the FCC in 2011.

FCC to study editorial process, bias in newsrooms

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is launching an initiative — the Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs — this spring that will research how news stations and papers select and cover stories.

While that study may seem innocuous, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai warns that it could lead to further regulation of the First Amendment by a powerful government agency, bringing reminders of the “Fairness Doctrine”:

Last May the FCC proposed an initiative to thrust the federal government into newsrooms across the country. With its “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,” or CIN, the agency plans to send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run. A field test in Columbia, S.C., is scheduled to begin this spring.

The purpose of the CIN, according to the FCC, is to ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about “the process by which stories are selected” and how often stations cover “critical information needs,” along with “perceived station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.”

NSA official: “I have some reforms for the First Amendment”

Daniel Drezner, contributing editor at Foreign Policy, recently paid a visit to the National Security Agency’s complex in Fort Meade, Maryland and chatted with various employees at the intelligence agency.

The article Drezner wrote about the visit, which was published earlier this week, presents a fairly sympathetic view of the NSA and its frustrated employees in light of the heavy public scrutiny due to its controversial domestic surveillance programs. But he recounted a conversation with one unnamed agency official that shows a very real, terrifying disconnect over the concerns with its spying (emphasis added):

The NSA’s attitude toward the press is, well, disturbing. There were repeated complaints about the ways in which recent reportage of the NSA was warped or lacking context. To be fair, this kind of griping is a staple of officials across the entire federal government. Some of the NSA folks went further, however. One official accused some media outlets of “intentionally misleading the American people,” which is a pretty serious accusation. This official also hoped that the Obama administration would crack down on these reporters, saying, “I have some reforms for the First Amendment.” I honestly do not know whether that last statement was a joke or not. Either way, it’s not funny.

Yeah, that’s not funny, whether it was meant as meant as a joke or not. But the sad thing is that these comments echo a sentiment expressed by NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander in government-sponsored propaganda.

NSA chief wants to limit freedom of the press

Keith Alexander

Amid growing concerns from foreign governments of the NSA’s alleged spying and backlash domestically over the collection of innocent Americans phone and Internet data, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander wants to stop the press from reporting on the information provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden:

The head of the embattled National Security Agency, Gen. Keith Alexander, is accusing journalists of “selling” his agency’s documents and is calling for an end to the steady stream of public disclosures of secrets snatched by former contractor Edward Snowden.

“I think it’s wrong that that newspaper reporters have all these documents, the 50,000—whatever they have and are selling them and giving them out as if these—you know it just doesn’t make sense,” Alexander said in an interview with the Defense Department’s “Armed With Science” blog.

“We ought to come up with a way of stopping it. I don’t know how to do that. That’s more of the courts and the policymakers but, from my perspective, it’s wrong to allow this to go on,” the NSA director declared.

Alexander did not elaborate on what he meant by reporters “selling” documents or what options he might consider for halting the disclosures. An NSA spokeswoman declined to expand on the general’s comments.

Obama Administration’s war on leaks hurting press freedoms

The government’s prosecution of leakers and whistleblowers has undermined President Barack Obama’s promise of open government and transparency and undermined freedom of the press, according to a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists. The picture painted of the Obama Administration in the report is certainly a damning one.

“In the Obama administration’s Washington, government officials are increasingly afraid to talk to the press. Those suspected of discussing with reporters anything that the government has classified as secret are subject to investigation, including lie-detector tests and scrutiny of their telephone and e-mail records,” wrote Leonard Downie, Jr., a former executive editor of the Washington Post, in the report, The Obama Administration and the Press: Leak investigations and surveillance in post-9/11 America.

“An ‘Insider Threat Program’ being implemented in every government department requires all federal employees to help prevent unauthorized disclosures of information by monitoring the behavior of their colleagues,” he noted. “Six government employees, plus two contractors including Edward Snowden, have been subjects of felony criminal prosecutions since 2009 under the 1917 Espionage Act, accused of leaking classified information to the press—compared with a total of three such prosecutions in all previous U.S. administrations. Still more criminal investigations into leaks are under way.”


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