if our free press is silenced, american freedom no longer exists

#ProtectPressFreedom

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your
right
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know

What do threats to press freedom look like?

Attacks on your right to know are happening every day. Many of them are easy to spot, but some are more subtle or go completely unnoticed. Find out how many you can identify.

Some of the threats listed below you might recognize, but many may be new to you. A lot of these tactics suppress information before it can even reach us, or try to influence our impression of it when it does. Each threat has the potential to deeply affect our daily lives — an attack on a single journalist or news outlet is an attack on our collective right to know.

THREATS TO YOUR RIGHT TO KNOW

1

LEGAL INTIMIDATION & RETALIATION

The threat of legal action targeting journalists, sources, or news outlets is often used as a way to silence reporting. Some lawsuits have no real legal merit and are only meant to drain newsroom resources and delay or prevent the publication of stories. Freelance journalists, documentary filmmakers, and small news outlets are especially at risk, because they may not have the resources to defend themselves.

IT LOOKS LIKE THIS:

  • Prior restraint
  • Libel and privacy lawsuits
  • Leaks investigations
  • Subpoenas for confidential news-gathering materials
  • Intimidation of sources

THE EFFECTS ARE:

  • Delayed or blocked publication of stories
  • Fear of speaking to journalists
  • Financial strain in newsrooms due to increasing legal costs

2

DENIAL OF ACCESS

The government has used a number of tactics to deny access to documents and events that the public has a legal right to see. In the worst cases, it has stopped efforts to increase government transparency and accountability. In addition, denied access sometimes may be due to retaliation against a reporter for coverage perceived as unfavorable to the government.

IT LOOKS LIKE THIS:

  • Revocation of press passes
  • Failure to provide information required by law
  • Denied access to:
    • Court proceedings and records
    • Public meetings and records
    • Press conferences
    • Government officials

THE EFFECTS ARE:

  • Reduced access to information that is supposed to be public

  • Erosion of government transparency and accountability

3

GOVERNMENT THREATS

The government is responsible for following the First Amendment and upholding our nation’s press freedom principles, but sometimes government officials wield their power and platform to intimidate members of the media and chill reporting. While corporations and private individuals can pressure and sue journalists, the misuse of government power over the press was the greatest concern to our nation’s founders. As James Madison wrote, “the censorial power is in the people over the Government, and not in the Government over the people.”

IT LOOKS LIKE THIS:

  • Tracking, detaining, or arresting journalists to prevent them from reporting or in retaliation for their reporting
  • Using inflammatory rhetoric targeting the press
  • Threatening to take away broadcast licenses or to use antitrust or other government regulatory investigations to punish disfavored news outlets

THE EFFECTS ARE:

  • Chilling effect on publishing important information
  • Diminished transparency
  • Physical endangerment of journalists in the U.S. and abroad
  • Undermining the press by stoking public distrust

How much do you know about press freedom?

4

Physical Violence

In recent years, journalists have had more and more reminders that while doing their jobs, their safety (and that of their families) may be on the line.

IT LOOKS LIKE THIS:

  • Shootings

  • Physical attacks

  • Damaged and stolen equipment

  • Bomb threats and suspicious packages

THE EFFECTS ARE:

  • Physical injury
  • Chilling effect
  • Financial strain on newsrooms due to increasing security costs
  • Journalists leaving the profession due to emotional and psychological distress or fear for safety

5

HARASSMENT

Journalists — especially female journalists — face both online and offline threats to their physical safety, integrity, and families. Journalists must then weigh the credibility of these threats against the publication of their work.

IT LOOKS LIKE THIS:

  •  Stalking and threats to physical safety

  • Posting private or identifying information online, also known as doxing

  • Smearing journalists by distributing false information or altered images

  • Trolling comments and insults using racist, misogynistic, and violent language

THE EFFECTS ARE:

  • Emotional and psychological distress
  • Vital information goes unpublished
  • Reporting is chilled, and public dialogue is shut down

    6

    DECLINING FINANCIAL VIABILITY OF LOCAL NEWS

    More than one in five newspapers have closed over the past 15 years, creating a local news coverage gap in some communities. Local broadcast news outlets are trying to answer the growing need for local coverage, but with fewer journalists on the ground, some stories remain uncovered.

    IT LOOKS LIKE THIS:

    • Lack of financial resources

    THE EFFECTS ARE:

    • Expanding news deserts (regions that do not have access to local news coverage)
    • News sources forced to scale back coverage, merge with other outlets, or become advertising supplements
    • Fewer voices to cover important stories and communities
    • Inability to pursue difficult stories or public records requests because of financial strain

    Take Action

    Spread The Word

    • Invite people to take the Press Freedom Quiz.
    • Use #ProtectPressFreedom on social media to:
      • Acknowledge threats
      • Show your support
      • Highlight great reporting
    • Download and share these images on social media using #ProtectPressFreedom

    STAY INFORMED

    Sign up for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press newsletter to keep up to date on efforts to protect press freedom. 

    SUPPORT LOCAL NEWS OUTLETS

    Keep press freedom alive by supporting your local news outlets.

    • Read, watch, listen to, and share local news
    • Subscribe to local news
    • Sign up for local news outlets’ newsletters

     

    Get to know the Press Freedom Coalition

    COALITION CHAIR

    Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

    Provides pro bono legal representation, support, and resources to protect First Amendment freedoms and the newsgathering rights of journalists.

    COALITION PARTNER

    Committee to Protect Journalists

    Promotes press freedom worldwide by defending the rights of journalists to report the news freely and safely without fear of reprisal.

    COALITION MEMBERS

    Free Press

    Fights for your rights to connect and communicate.

    Internews

    Empowers people worldwide with the trustworthy, high-quality news and information they need to make informed decisions, participate in their communities, and hold power to account.

    Media Law Resource Center

    Provides a wide range of media/content law and policy resources for media companies and their lawyers.

    PEN America

    Stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide.

    Reporters Without Borders

    Advocates for press freedom, access to information, and the protection of journalists throughout the world.

    The Society of Professional Journalists

    Encourages the free practice of journalism and stimulates high standards of ethical behavior.

    Our Valued Partners