Senator Jeff Sessions at his attorney general confirmation hearing on January 10. Sessions was asked if he would commit to not jailing journalists. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty/AFP)

CPJ urges Sessions to commit to journalist protection if confirmed as attorney general

January 11, 2017 5:31 PM ET

New York, January 11, 2016--In remarks before the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for attorney general yesterday, U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions said he was unsure whether he would commit to following guidelines adopted by Attorney General Eric Holder in 2015 that make it harder, though not impossible, for the Department of Justice to subpoena journalists' records.

"We urge Senator Jeff Sessions, if confirmed as attorney general, to follow the revised guidelines set out by Attorney General Eric Holder," said Carlos Lauría, CPJ's senior program coordinator for the Americas. "The U.S. government should be expanding protections for journalists to gather the news and maintain confidential sources. They must not roll these protections back."

Sessions' comments, recorded in a C-Span video, were in response to a question from Senator Amy Klobuchar about whether he would commit to not jailing journalists for their work. Sessions said that he would review the guidelines and noted "a broadly recognized and proper deference to the news media" was in place, but warned that the press could be a "mechanism through which unlawful intelligence is obtained."

In 2013, CPJ released a report on the Obama administration's press freedom record, in which it called for revised Department of Justice guidelines.