In the wake of a secret seizure of AP journalists’ phone records by the U.S. Department of Justice last month, Associated Press President and CEO Gary Pruitt said the overbroad action is already having a chilling effect on journalism.
In a speech today at the National Press Club in Washington, Pruitt, a First Amendment lawyer by training, outlined five steps that are “imperative to give meaning to the powers spelled out” in the Constitution to safeguard press freedom:
- “First: We want the Department of Justice to recognize the right of the press to advance notice and a chance to be heard before its records are taken by the government. This would have given AP the chance to point out the many failings of the subpoena. We believe notice was required under existing regulations; if the DOJ sees it differently, then regulations must be strengthened to remove any doubt.
- Second: We want judicial oversight. We need to ensure that proper checks and balances are maintained. In the AP phone records case, the Justice Department determined, on its own, that advance notice could be skipped, with no checks from any other branch of government. Denying constitutional rights by executive fiat is not how this government should work.
- Third: We want the DOJ guidelines updated to bring them into the 21st century. The guidelines were created before the Internet era. They didn’t foresee emails or text. The guidelines need to ensure that the protections afforded journalists from the forced disclosure of information encompass all forms of communication.
- Fourth: We want a federal shield law enacted with teeth in it that will protect reporters from such unilateral and secret government action.
- Fifth: We want the Department to formally institutionalize what Attorney General Holder has said: that the Justice Department will not prosecute any reporter for doing his or her job. The Department should not criminalize — or threaten to criminalize — journalists for doing their jobs, such as by calling them co-conspirators under the Espionage Act, as they did Fox reporter James Rosen. This needs to be part of an established directive, not only limited to the current administration.”
Read the full text of Pruitt’s prepared remarks.
Read the AP news story.