April 16, 2024

Press Freedom

Report to the Board of Governors November 29, 2011

Three letters have gone out since our last meeting, all of some interest, and three more have been assigned.

We wrote to President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to protest what we called a vendetta against James Risen of the New York Times and an attempt by the Obama administration to undermine a fundamental principle of press freedom.  Despite the fact that three subpoenas trying to force Risen to disclose his sources have been quashed, the Justice Department continues to appeal, to make him testify in the trial of a former CIA agent on charges of leaking information about a failed attempt to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.  We reminded the president and the attorney general that Mr. Obama had promised an open administration, and we called on them both to endorse the latest effort to pass a shield law in Congress.

In a somewhat ambivalent letter to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, we called it an exercise in cynicism and hypocrisy to award the Prime Minister’s annual award for excellence in journalism to Mikhail Beketov, since there has been no effort to find and punish those who nearly beat Beketov to death two years ago.  At the same time, we applauded the courage of the journalists on the award’s panel who nominated Beketov and voted him the winner, in an effort to call attention to his case and embarrass the government.  As you may recall, it was Beketov, the editor of a small opposition paper in the Moscow suburbs, who first reported the government’s plan to build a new highway through the Khimki forest.  Like several other journalists who covered the story, Beketov was attacked by unknown assailants.  He suffered brain damage and still cannot speak complete sentences; with a leg amputated and his hands so mangled that he can’t type, he is confined to a wheelchair.  We told Medvedev and Putin that we would be on the alert for any retaliation against the journalists who bravely and ingeniously voted the Prime Minister’s award to Beketov.

We also wrote to Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City to deplore the way the New York Police Department repressed coverage of the eviction of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators from Zuccotti Park, including arresting and physically attacking reporters and photographers who were displaying NYPD press credentials.  Others arrested and mistreated included bloggers and journalists representing online outlets who did not qualify for press passes under the NYPD rules, which we suggested should be re-examined in light of what is actually happening in journalism. 

This case is especially relevant in light of our current forum on the OPC Web site, “Who Is a Journalist?”   As I mentioned at last month’s meeting, this forum was posted in part to reflect the Occupy Wall Street protests, which had already produced press freedom violations well before the Zuccotti Park eviction. 

Respectfully submitted by:  Larry Martz, Chairman