WASHINGTON – The Newspaper Guild‘s executive council is blasting official government moves to crack down on journalists both in the U.S. and abroad. Crackdowns range from Detroit police hauling in a photographer covering an arrest — and confiscating her phone’s SIM card — to the British government’s seizure of notes and hard drives from the partner of the reporter who broke the story about the U.S. government’s extensive data-mining of Americans’ phone calls and e-mails.
And the next step in its protest, adds union President Bernie Lunzer, is to construct a “take action” alert that people can implement right now – such as contacting the White House and Attorney General Eric Holder in protest.
The Guild says governmental crackdowns on journalists have accelerated, as has the threat to the flow of information that mass media – including newspapers – provide to people worldwide to help them make informed decisions.
In the U.S., “This administration is worse than that of (George W.) Bush” in going after journalists, Lunzer said. “We need to create more pressure” to enforce a halt, he added. “With the British government smashing hard drives and everything else going on, it’s getting pretty bad.”
And the U.S. “should be ashamed of” the bad example it is setting for the rest of the world, the TNG council said.
“The public’s right to know is in grave jeopardy as journalists – locally, nationally and globally – face shocking levels of government interference and intimidation,” the council added. “The recent detention of the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald at Britain’s Heathrow Airport, and seizure of his laptop, cellphone and other materials, is only the latest high-profile example of authorities’ abuse of power.
“In the United States, revelations about federal authorities tracking journalists’ cell phone records and even their movements have a chilling effect on reporters and potential whistleblowers. A New York Times reporter is being threatened with jail if he refuses to disclose the source of a leak.
“In cities across the country, police have become almost brazen in arresting photographers and journalists simply doing their jobs at crime scenes and public protests,” the statement added.
Besides the arrest of Detroit newspaper photojournalist Mandi Wright on July 11, and confiscation of her cell phone, other incidents include Oakland, Calif., police arresting journalists who were reporting on a sweep there of an Occupy encampment last year.
“The (Detroit) police response is emblematic of a trend in this country,” the union said after Wright’s arrest and 6-1/2-hour detention. “Too frequently, law enforcement officers believe they have the right to stop journalists and others from recording and photographing incidents taking place in public view.
“The all-purpose excuse, ‘security concerns,’ is commonly used to silence journalists and trample the public’s right to know,” the Guild stated. The Guild and its Detroit local warned police they would not silently tolerate further infringements.
Egyptian soldiers enforcing a curfew shot dead Tamer Abdul Raouf, Beheira bureau chief of the state newspaper Al Ahram. Raouf was driving a car with an official press badge, after interviewing Beheira’s governor following the army crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood on August 15 that left more than 900 Brotherhood supporters and more than 40 police dead..
The soldiers also wounded Raouf’s colleague, Hamed al-Barbari, the New York Times reported. When al-Barbari, speaking from his hospital bed, started contradicting military accounts of the shooting, the military arrested him, in the hospital.
“The United States should be ashamed of the example it is setting for the rest of the world with regard to press freedoms and the public’s right to know. One has to wonder if Britain would have detained Miranda in the absence of the U.S. campaign to crack down on truth-tellers,” the executive council concluded.
Photo: The offices of the Guardian and its sister paper, The Observer, Aug. 19. The Guardian’s editor, Alan Rusbridger, said British agents oversaw the destruction of an unspecified number of his newspaper’s hard drives. Raphael Satter/AP