Stop spying on and, instead, protect journalists

The world is a dangerous place to be a journalist, with 36 confirmed dead so far in 2013, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

But it’s not just individual journalists in danger. The profession itself is under fire, even in the United States, where we have First Amendment protection. As reported in this week’s Feature Story package (see page 14), journalists are finding more blocks to doing their work and more punitive actions when they report what they find.

Currently, investigative journalist Barrett Brown is in federal custody on a number of charges, which could send him to prison for up to 105 years. Brown, who has written for The Guardian and Vanity Fair, was investigating emails from a private security firm with government contracts that had been hacked and given to WikiLeaks. No one thinks Brown was the hacker—that guy’s going to prison for 10 years—but Brown’s investigation was so unnerving to the U.S. security apparatus that, in early August, government prosecutors made a motion to ban media from covering Brown’s trial.

If journalists aren’t making the government nervous, we’re not doing our jobs.

The current obsession with secrecy and threat or use of arrest, imprisonment and violence to silence journalists are signs that government secrecy is out of control.

Freedom of the press—including the freedom to report on things that the government, business, religious or social institutions would rather have ignored—is at the crux of all American freedoms. We simply cannot allow the criminalization of journalism. Instead, we must insist that government secrets be vetted by a truly independent judiciary—not one handpicked by the security establishment—and that the burden of proof that secrecy is required be placed on the government, not the journalists.

Without a free press and an informed citizenry, we have no democracy. We urge readers to support the proposed federal shield law and to contact their congressional representatives to demand an end to spying on and prosecuting journalists for doing their constitutionally protected jobs.