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Reporters Committee sues State Department for ‘faith-based’ media briefing records

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  1. Newsgathering
The State Department refused to produce records regarding a faith-based media press briefing.
Image: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Courtesy of Flickr.
Image: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Courtesy of Flickr.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is suing the United States Department of State for refusing to release the records related to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “faith-based media”-only press briefing in violation of the Freedom of Information Act.

On March 18, CNN reported that Secretary Pompeo held a phone briefing to discuss “international religious freedom.” Members of the State Department press corps were excluded from the briefing, and only “faith-based” media were allowed to participate. Participants in the phone briefing “were not told that the call was limited to faith-based media,” according to Religion News Service.

As CNN reported, the State Department said it would not be distributing a transcript of the briefing, a list of attendees or the criteria used to determine which media outlets were invited. On March 19, the Reporters Committee submitted a FOIA request to the State Department asking for any transcripts or records that capture the substance of the briefing, any emails inviting organizations to join the briefing and any records which explain the selection process for inviting organizations.

At the time the lawsuit was filed on July 17, 120 days had passed since the request was submitted, and the Reporters Committee had not received any communication from the State Department regarding the request.

The Reporters Committee is asking the federal district court in D.C. to order the State Department to immediately process and release the records it has requested and to award the Reporters Committee attorney’s fees.

“The decision to bar reporters from attending a press briefing held only for ‘faith-based’ media on international religious freedom and to withhold the transcript of the discussion raises serious questions about the State Department’s understanding of — and commitment to — a free press,” said Reporters Committee Communications Director Jenn Topper, following the exclusive briefing in March.

“As a representative of the United States, Secretary Pompeo is subject to public oversight, and with no transcript of this briefing, no list of attendees, and no pool report, the broader press and the public are left entirely in the dark about who participated, what was said, and the implications of this conversation ahead of the Secretary’s trip to the Middle East.”

Read the complaint.

The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.

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