Today, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press joins more than 20 press freedom organizations announcing the launch of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a new nonpartisan website dedicated to documenting press freedom abuses across the United States.
“The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker will help us demonstrate to courts, using data, the very real threats to newsgathering that we’re seeing," said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "By cataloguing these incidents publicly and in real-time, we hope that policymakers and courts take notice and hold those who would attempt to infringe upon freedom of the press accountable."
Led by the Committee to Protect Journalists and Freedom of the Press Foundation, the website will serve as a central repository for data at a time when journalists in the U.S. are facing increased hostility. The Reporters Committee serves on the steering committee for the website.
In recent months, journalists have been charged with crimes while covering protests in Washington D.C. and North Dakota; stopped at the border and subjected to searches of their electronic devices; and physically assaulted, in one case by a congressional candidate. Data collected on the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker shows that 19 journalists have been arrested in the course of their work in 2017 and that at least 10 reporters are currently facing charges. In 2017 at least four journalists have been stopped at the border and 11 have faced physical attacks, according to the tracker. These numbers may increase as we receive new information.
“The United States has some of the strongest legal protections for press freedom in the world and a robust and varied media landscape, but this cannot be taken for granted. Open hostility, threats of leak prosecutions, and arrests have created a precarious situation for journalists,” said Alex Ellerbeck, senior research associate for the U.S. at the Committee to Protect Journalists and chair of the steering committee for the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. “A full and honest accounting of challenges to press freedom in this country is sorely needed.”
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker collects data based on news reports and tips submitted by journalists, professional organizations, and press freedom organizations. The coalition behind the tracker will use the research in letters, legal briefs, and advocacy campaigns.
“With the Trump administration ramping up its war on journalism, this initiative could not come at a more important time,” said Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. “We hope it will be vital to highlighting the threats to press freedom in the U.S. and the important work journalists do to hold the government accountable.”
Freedom of the Press Foundation is leading the day-to-day operations of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, with its senior reporter, Peter Sterne, serving as the managing editor. The Committee to Protect Journalists is providing the initial funding and chairing the steering committee. Along with the Reporters Committee, the steering committee also includes representatives from the Knight Institute at Columbia University, Reporters Without Borders, and Index on Censorship. Please find a full list of partners on the website.