Freedom of the press
May 7, 2019

Journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo walked free from prison in Myanmar on Tuesday morning, apparently released after more than 500 days as part of a mass presidential amnesty tied to the country's traditional New Year, which began on April 17.

Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, had been reporting a story for Reuters about a massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by Myanmar security forces and Buddhist civilians when they were arrested in December 2017 and charged under Myanmar's colonial-era Official Secrets Act. The charges were widely seen as the result of entrapment. They were sentenced to seven years in prison and lost their final appeal in April.

Their report won the pair the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in April, along with other accolades. "I'm really happy and excited to see my family and my colleagues," Wa Lone said after walking through the gates of Insein Prison on the outskirts of Yangon. "I can't wait to go to my newsroom." Reuters editor in chief Stephen J. Adler said in a statement that the news agency is "enormously pleased" the reporters were released, adding: "Since their arrests 511 days ago, they have become symbols of the importance of press freedom around the world. We welcome their return."

The two journalists were released to a Reuters representative and Lord Ara Darzi, a British surgeon who has formally advised the Myanmar government. In a statement, Darzi said the pair were granted a pardon after "months of dialogue" involving Myanmar's government, Reuters, the United Nations, and multiple other governments. "This outcome shows that dialogue works, even in the most difficult of circumstances," he said.

The violence against the Rohingya minority in western Rakhine State began in August 2017 and it sent more than 730,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh. Peter Weber

November 19, 2018

On Monday, the White House announced it had restored CNN reporter Jim Acosta's hard press pass, following a legal battle.

At the same time, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Deputy Chief of Staff Bill Shine announced new guidelines for journalists covering press conferences. They are only allowed to ask one question, with any follow-ups answered at the discretion of President Trump or the White House official holding the press conference. When a journalist is done asking their question, they must also hand over the microphone. Anyone violating those rules could have their press pass suspended or revoked.

The White House announced it was revoking Acosta's pass on Nov. 7 following a testy exchange with Trump, and his refusal to give the microphone to an aide. CNN took the matter to court, and a judge temporarily restored Acosta's press pass on Friday. Catherine Garcia

August 17, 2018

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stunned the nation when she defeated longtime Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) in a Democratic primary back in June. In vanquishing Crowley, who held the fourth-highest position in Democratic House leadership, Ocasio-Cortez showed the appeal a political newcomer can have in a party increasingly fed up with its old ways.

But Washington Post reporter Seung Min Kim exposed the potential pitfalls of Ocasio-Cortez's greenness in a tweet Friday, calling out the probable congresswoman for holding a public event that was closed to the press. Kim tweeted out a story from the Queens Chronicle, a local paper in the district Ocasio-Cortez is hoping to represent this fall, that noted, "Unless you were in the room Sunday, you won't know what specific community problems were mentioned. ... That's because her campaign banned members of the media from attending the event, which was otherwise open to the public."

Kim noted that Ocasio-Cortez would be "in for a rough time on Capitol Hill" if her preference is to avoid reporters. When Ocasio-Cortez's campaign said it "wanted to help create a space where community members felt comfortable," the reporter noted that the campaign could've just made the event entirely private to ensure that.

Ocasio-Cortez herself eventually responded to Kim's tweets, writing that because the community is "50 percent immigrant" and includes "victims of [domestic violence], trafficking, and ... personal medical issues," the event was "designed for residents to feel safe discussing sensitive issues in a threatening political time." She also noted that her campaign had told press in advance that they were not welcome at the event. Kim responded: "You cannot ban members of the press from events that are otherwise open to the public. ... Period."

Ocasio-Cortez is virtually guaranteed to prevail in the general election in New York's heavily Democratic 14th District. Read the original Queens Chronicle article here. Kimberly Alters

May 12, 2017

President Trump threatened to end White House press briefings Friday, apparently because "it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at the podium with perfect accuracy." The president's comments come in response to outcry following comments made by Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders this week, in which she was exposed as being "in the dark" about Trump's process of firing FBI Director James Comey.

NBC News' Bradd Jaffy noticed a possible TV-to-tweet connection, citing Nicolle Wallace's criticism on Today on Friday. "That White House podium used to mean something, and now they send them out say, whatever," she said.

Sopan Deb of The New York Times responded to Trump's tweets by saying: "Honestly, this is not the worst idea in the world. What is the purpose given all the contradictions that come out of the press shop?" He added, "I mean, the other option is that they can be instructed to always tell the truth and be transparent." Jeva Lange

March 4, 2015

A new report from the Columbia Journalism Review suggests that relations between the White House and journalists are more guarded and unproductive than ever.

"An exhaustive study of every official exchange Obama had with the press corps in 2014, supplemented by a review of daily press briefings and interviews with more than a dozen current and former correspondents and White House press secretaries," CJR summarizes, "reveals a White House determined to conceal its workings from the press, and by extension, the public."

When press do get direct access to the president, these increasingly rare encounters are often more focused on provoking a reaction over a controversial topic than "addressing long-term accountability issues." Meanwhile, new technological resources like social media have allowed the White House, in turn, to bypass the press corps entirely and present a crafted message directly to the public without the hassle of questions from reporters. Bonnie Kristian

February 6, 2015

New data from Pew Research Center indicates that nearly two-thirds of American investigative reporters believe their communications are being monitored by the federal government today. Among journalists who cover national security topics, that figure jumps to 71 percent.

(Pew Research Center)

Eight out of 10 reporters also say that even if they're not being spied on right now, their profession makes them more likely to be subject to federal scrutiny. This assumption is not unreasonable given the Obama administration's recent history of spying on the Associated Press and Fox News. Bonnie Kristian

August 14, 2014

Earlier today, I wrote about a local video crew in Ferguson that captured shocking footage of an Al-Jazeera team being tear gassed by the police. Here's a segment from the reporter in question, Ash-Har Quraishi, describing what it was like:

Quraishi says that at the time, they were about a mile from the main center of the protest, and had previously communicated with the police about their intentions.

Vox's Sarah Kliff has further reading on the chemical contained in tear gas, which is banned in warfare by the Geneva Convention, and has not been thoroughly studied for long-term side effects in humans. Ryan Cooper

August 14, 2014

My colleague Jon Terbush previously reported on how last night, Ferguson police repeatedly shot tear gas at fleeing protestors. But they weren't the only ones getting gassed.

In a shocking video from KSDK-TV, police shoot a tear gas canister at a completely peaceful Al-Jazeera America crew, who then run for cover. A few minutes later, a police truck bearing the name "St. Charles County Regional SWAT" approaches, and police take down the Al-Jazeera setup, pulling down their lights and pointing their camera at the ground. Watch the first part here:

That video stops before the police take down the camera, but you can watch the rest here.

What happened next, according to the KSDK account:

From there, the KSDK crew says police approached them with "guns drawn." Matthews says she and one photojournalist were in the SUV with their hands up and the third member of their crew got down on his knees in front of the SUV and raised his hand — telling police he was with the press.

Matthews says police told them they received a call that members of the media were in danger and in need of assistance. All three members of the KSDK crew say they were never in danger and never asked for assistance.

It should be noted that filming in a public place is a constitutionally protected right. Ryan Cooper

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