More than 50 journalists, lawyers, media rights advocates, and First Amendment stakeholders came together in Washington last week with a common interest in protecting freedom of the press and securing rights granted by the First Amendment. In discussing top priorities as the Trump administration takes shape, the group agreed that countering legal threats to reporters – such as leaks investigations, libel suits, and a disregard for the Freedom of Information Act – and promoting a public policy in support of the public’s right to know are crucial areas that require a unified response.
“We met at an unprecedented time in the history of the American press,” said Mike Cavender, RTDNA Executive Director. “As we move forward, it is imperative that we, as journalists, clearly explain to Americans that our interests lay in protecting their right to understand what their government is doing.”
“This past election year has left the press’ standing with the American public at its lowest point, caused many of us to question ourselves and each other over mission and methods, and now finds us facing a new president who expresses not only disregard but disdain for many of the rights and freedoms journalists have long taken for granted,” said David Boardman, chairman of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) which, along with the American Society of News Editors, organized the event. “But I hasten to remind you all that this is not a partisan struggle. The president who leaves office next week, while far less strident in his comments about the press, was no champion for our rights.”
In addition to prioritizing protections for reporters from government interference in newsgathering, the group considered how best to strengthen the press’ public image and discussed forming a coalition to document intimidation of the press. It also agreed on the importance of leading a coordinated response to these challenges while rallying the public in support of the First Amendment.
“It is critical that we work together and do all we can to leverage our combined power to safeguard freedom of the press and protect reporters’ rights,” said RCFP Executive Director Bruce Brown. “This includes promoting the significance of the First Amendment and the media’s essential role in a functioning democracy.”