Attacks on the Press 2009: United States

Top Developments
• Authorities hold Iraqi journalist without charge or due process.
• Obama, Congress send encouraging messages on press freedom

Key Statistic
10: Days that U.S. immigration officials detained a VOA reporter during a visa dispute.

The administration made encouraging statements in support of press freedom—including remarks by President Barack Obama on World Press Freedom Day—but the U.S. military continued to jail one overseas journalist without charge or due process. U.S. forces in Iraq were holding Ibrahim Jassam, a freelance photojournalist working for Reuters, despite a local court order that he be released. The military asserted that Jassam posed a threat, but it disclosed no evidence. In September, on the anniversary of Jassam’s 2008 detention, CPJ called on U.S. military forces to either charge or release the journalist.


Main Index
Regional Analysis:
In the Americas,
Big Brother is watching reporters

Country Summaries
United States
Other developments

U.S. immigration authorities detained for 10 days in August a Pakistani journalist who was on his way to the Washington headquarters of the U.S. government-funded Voice of America. Rahman Bunairee, a reporter for VOA’s Deewa service and a local TV station, had fled Pakistan after Taliban militants blew up his family’s home. The VOA had made arrangements for the journalist to live and work in the United States for one year, but a visa dispute led immigration officials to detain him at Dulles International Airport. Bunairee was released after CPJ and VOA publicized the case.

Pentagon officials in Virginia questioned field commanders in Afghanistan over reports that U.S. forces were profiling and ranking reporters. In August, Stars and Stripes obtained confidential documents that The Rendon Group, a private contractor, had prepared for U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan. The documents assessed “the expected sentiment” of several reporters based on a comprehensive profile of their previous coverage, and included suggestions to commanders on how to persuade reporters to provide “more favorable coverage.”

New information shed light on two previous U.S. cases. An oversight report faulted St. Paul, Minn., police for its handling of protests at the 2008 Republican National Convention. An independent review led by former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Luger concluded in January that more than 40 journalists had been arrested, including two Associated Press photographers and three journalists for the nationally syndicated radio and television program “Democracy Now!” The report, submitted to the St. Paul City Council, criticized the police department for ignoring the media’s pre-convention requests to develop a protocol for dealing with reporters covering protests.

In April, new indictments were handed down in connection with the August 2007 murder of Oakland Post Editor Chauncey Bailey in California. Alameda County authorities indicted two men in April: Yusef Bey IV and Antoine Mackey. Bey was the proprietor and Mackey an associate with Your Black Muslim Bakery, a local business whose finances Bailey was investigating when he was shot. Authorities had previously charged only Devaughndre Broussard, a former bakery handyman, in the murder. The additional arrests came after the Chauncey Bailey Project, a consortium of Bailey’s colleagues, uncovered a host of irregularities in the Oakland police investigation.

In Washington, some lawmakers pushed for examination of international press freedom conditions, while Obama issued a strong statement in support of World Press Freedom Day. “It is a day in which we celebrate the indispensable role played by journalists in exposing abuses of power, while we sound the alarm about the growing number of journalists silenced by death or jail as they attempt to bring daily news,” Obama said in a statement. Citing CPJ research on journalists killed on duty, his statement said, “Only a third of those deaths were linked to the dangers of covering war; the majority of victims were local reporters covering topics such as crime, corruption, and national security in their home countries.” Obama also took part in an online interview in November with the Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez. He told Sánchez, who has been harassed for her blogging that, “it is telling the Internet has provided you and other courageous Cuban bloggers with an outlet to express yourself so freely, and I applaud your collective efforts to empower fellow Cubans to express themselves through the use of technology.”

The Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act passed the House, and it came under consideration in the Senate. The act would compel the State Department to report annually to Congress on a full range of press freedom abuses, and to explain “what steps the government of each such country has taken to preserve the safety and independence of the media, and to ensure the prosecution of those individuals who attack or murder journalists.” CPJ sent a letter of support to the House sponsors of the bill, Reps. Adam Schiff and Mike Pence, and urged the Senate to pass the legislation.

The Free Flow of Information Act, which would help journalists under federal subpoena protect confidential sources, remained under consideration in Congress. The legislation cleared a key hurdle in December when the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill and sent it to the full chamber for a vote. The House had earlier passed its own version. CPJ was among many press freedom and news organizations supporting the legislation. The Global Online Freedom Act, which would make it a crime for U.S. firms to turn over customer information to governments of “Internet-restricting countries,” remained under consideration in the House of Representatives.

CPJ continued to serve as a member of the Global Network Initiative, founded in 2008 by a group of Internet companies, academics, investors, and human rights groups. The initiative established voluntary guidelines for Internet and telecommunications companies to protect free expression and privacy. Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft joined the initiative and agreed to follow its guidelines when restrictive governments seek to enlist them in acts of censorship or surveillance that violate international human rights standards. CPJ’s advocacy around the globe was recognized in October, when it received the Thomas J. Dodd Prize in International Justice and Human Rights. The prize was awarded for “significant effort to advance the cause of international justice and global human rights.”

State, county, and municipal authorities within the United States took actions against several journalists during the year. Diane Bukowski, a freelance reporter for The Michigan Citizen, was sentenced in June to one year of probation, 200 hours of community service, and $4,200 in fines after being convicted on two felony counts of resisting, obstructing, opposing, and endangering two Michigan state troopers at a crime scene. Bukowski was arrested in November 2008 while covering the aftermath of a state police chase that ended in fatalities. Many of Bukowski’s reports for the Citizen, a weekly focused on Detroit’s African-American community, had been critical of the Detroit Police Department and the Wayne County prosecutor. Both offices had pursued the criminal case against her. A Michigan state trooper acknowledged in court that he seized Bukowski’s camera during the arrest and erased two digital images.

A New York state legislator faced trial on allegations he attacked a photographer trying to take his picture in May. State Sen. Kevin Parker was getting out of a car near his parents’ home in Brooklyn when New York Post photographer William C. Lopez took his picture from the street, news reports said. The Post later published a story that said Parker, who had advocated foreclosure relief in the legislature, hadn’t made payments on a mortgage for a year. In Albany, State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith removed Parker from leadership posts pending the outcome of the criminal case. Parker pleaded not guilty in July.

Pittsburgh police arrested at least two journalists who were covering protests during meetings by the Group of 20. Sadie Gurman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was held overnight before being released. The Post-Gazette quoted her as saying she was arrested “while truly trying to get out of the fray.” Melissa Hill, a reporter for Twin Cities Indymedia, a Minneapolis-based community news organization, was arrested and held for five hours. She said police had confiscated her video disc and broken her camera. Charges against Gurman were dropped, according to AP. Hill was found guilty of disorderly conduct and fined $300, according to her blog post on Twin Cities Indymedia.

In October, federal authorities charged two Chicago men with plotting an attack against Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that printed a series of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, according to news reports. The cartoons, first published in September 2005, sparked public protests in numerous countries after they were reproduced in other publications. Authorities said the plot was in its early stages.