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Speaking of Press Freedom | Our December Newsletter

December 2, 2019

Friends of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker:

Welcome to your final newsletter of the year around press freedom violations in the United States.

Overview

When a journalist’s press freedom rights are violated, there are often ripple effects for the entire news organization.

David Hodges, a reporter with WBTV in Charlotte, North Carolina, brought that point home when a judge ordered a temporary restraining order on Nov. 13 preventing the airing of his investigative report. The next day, the judge reversed her order, admitting the prior restraint “was in error.”

Hodges told the Tracker he was initially shocked by the experience, but grateful for how his newsroom came together to defend the First Amendment.

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Press freedom threats — plus homework

On our site today, we published an extensive look into the cases we’ve collected at the Tracker around student journalism.

At both the high school and university levels, journalists are facing the same press freedom threats—from arrests and assaults to legal threats like subpoenas and defamation suits—but don’t always have the same protections as their professional counterparts.

Reporter Stephanie Sugars outlines the incidents we’ve tracked, the gap in those protections and those working through the judicial system to change the future of student journalism. Read it all here, and follow us on Twitter for daily updates.

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Special Election Section

Speaking of student journalists, earlier this month two Kentucky university newspapers were denied access into a local campaign rally for President Donald Trump.

We’ve created a special blog for campaign-related incidents in a lead-up to the 2020 general elections, with a focus on candidates for federal office. Our reasoning is thus: How candidates treat the press while campaigning may give us insight into how they would act as elected officials.

And fun fact: This campaign rally post was written by another student as part of a joint project between journalism students at the University of Missouri and the Tracker.

All the Updates

In addition to reporting press freedom violations as they happen, we continuously update our database as incidents evolve.

Speaking of campaign rallies and the idea that how candidates treat the press while campaigning is a reflection of how they would treat them in office … in June we reported that a Florida man was arrested for battery after threatening and assaulting Orlando Sentinel reporter Michael Williams during the reelection kickoff rally for Trump.

This September, the State of Florida agreed to drop the charges, pending the plaintiff successfully completes an anger management course, community service, and payments to the state.

Other updates of note:

  • A judge in Kansas City has ordered a Kansas senator to pay all the legal fees stemming from his defamation suit against The Kansas City Star and one of its contributing columnists. Majority Leader Jim Denning will pay more than $60,000 in legal fees.
  • Speaking of defamation: After initially closing the suit in July, a Kentucky federal judge has reopened the libel case against The Washington Post from the family of a teenager who came under national focus at a march in Washington, D.C., last year. Discovery will begin on three published statements.

Looking Back on New Year’s Day

On Jan. 1, 2020, watch your inbox for the next newsletter, a detailed overview of what the Tracker collected — and what it meant — in 2019.

Welcome and Support

Finally, I’d like to extend a warm welcome to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker’s newest partner, the Association of Health Care Journalists. The work we do here is not possible without the support of our partner organizations and newsletter readers like you.

Speaking of support… consider an end-of-year donation to Freedom of the Press Foundation, where the Tracker is housed, to make our work possible in the years to come.

Best,

Kirstin
Managing Editor, USPFT