The Honorable Greg Gianforte
1419 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Thursday, October 12, 2017
Dear Congressman Gianforte,
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent press freedom advocacy organization, writes to thank you and your staff for meeting with CPJ on Thursday, October 5, 2017 to discuss our work and actions you can take to champion press freedom during your term in the 115th United States Congress.
As we discussed, journalists around the world are under threat as never before. CPJ works globally to track, report, and advocate on behalf of individual journalists and speak out against press freedom violations. We have found wide-ranging violations, including government intimidation, harassment, and imprisonment of journalists; journalists targeted for violence and killed by both state and non-state actors; and impunity in cases of murdered journalists.
In response to a recent uptick in threats to the media here in the United States, CPJ led a coalition of more than two dozen press freedom groups to create the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. This project–launched in part with your contribution to CPJ as a result of your settlement with reporter Ben Jacobs–compiles information on violations around the country. In 2017 we have so far documented 31 arrests of journalists, 29 physical attacks on journalists, 14 equipment seizures and searches, and 4 border stops.
As we mentioned in our meeting, there are several concrete steps you can take to advance press freedom as a member of Congress.
- Join the Congressional Caucus for Freedom of the Press. This bipartisan caucus, co-chaired by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), was originally launched by Rep. Schiff and then-Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) to promote press freedom in Congress. Joining the caucus would connect you to press freedom advocacy efforts in Congress, and send a clear signal that you care deeply about the issue.
- Join the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. The House of Representatives created this bipartisan commission, co-chaired by Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) and Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL), to promote and defend international human rights as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The commission regularly holds briefings, organizes sign-on letters, and recently launched a valuable toolkit for members of Congress called Human Rights on the Hill.
- Take action on cases of imprisoned journalists. As a member of Congress, you are uniquely positioned to provide a voice to imprisoned journalists around the world, for example by sending letters to administration officials such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and issuing statements on the House floor. CPJ’s Free the Press campaign features stories of journalists who are imprisoned for their work.
- Don’t treat journalists as national security threats. CPJ has raised concerns regarding searches of journalists’ materials and devices at borders, and proposals to require social media account passwords as part of the visa application process. We have also expressed concern regarding Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ statement that this administration is pursuing three times as many leak investigations as the previous administration, and is considering revisiting Department of Justice guidelines on issuing subpoenas for journalists. Press freedom is not a threat to national security; journalistic material allows both elected officials and the public to make informed decisions. We urge you to defend and advance this view.
- Speak out publicly about the importance of press freedom. Elected officials who label the news media as an “enemy of the American people” delegitimize journalists in the minds of many Americans. This rhetoric also emboldens foreign leaders who can point to an increasingly hostile environment toward journalists in the U.S. to support their own repressive tactics. We urge you to use your position to ensure that respect for press freedom is a central part of U.S. domestic and foreign policy.
During our meeting, you stated that no one’s life should be at risk for his or her reporting. We agree, and would add that press freedom is a cornerstone of any free, prosperous nation. This is why the increase in global threats to journalists and media outlets is deeply concerning to us.
As a Congressman, you have both the duty and power to ensure our government respects the rights of journalists in the U.S., and promotes press freedom around the world. We hope you seriously consider the materials we provided, and our above recommendations.