World Press Freedom Day
by Stephen Lendman
America’s First Amendment affirms it. So does Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It states “(e)veryone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
In December 1993, the UN General Assembly declared May 3 World Press Freedom Day. Following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference, it did so to:
- “celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom;
- assess the state of press freedom throughout the world;
- defend the media from attacks on their independence; (and)
- pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.”
From April 30 to May 3, 1991, UNESCO’s “Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press” seminar issued a Declaration of Windhoek. It called for “protecting fundamental free expression principles.”
They’re fragile and threatened, even in so-called democratic societies. Journalist AJ Liebling (1904 – 1963) once said “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” Conditions are much worse today than decades earlier.
At issue is repressive police state legislation. HR 3523: Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) provides the latest example. It’s more about destroying personal freedom than cybersecurity.
It reveals the hypocrisy of a May 3 State Department statement, saying in part:
“On World Press Freedom Day—and every day—the United States honors and supports media freedom at home and abroad. Press freedom is a key element of the freedom of expression, which is a foundation for other universal human rights.”
“We call on all governments to protect the universal human right to freedom of expression.”
Calling on its own would be a good place to start.
In recent years, journalists exposing sensitive truths and whistleblowers have been targeted. Obama’s Justice Department used the 1917 Espionage Act to prosecute a record six whistleblowers for revealing what everyone needs to know. Doing so exceeded all previous administrations combined.
The Espionage Act was enacted during WW I. It was about interfering with military operations, supporting enemies, promoting insubordination in the ranks, or challenging military recruitment.
In Schenck v. United States (1919), the Supreme Court ruled that free speech of those convicted under its provisions weren’t violated. Thereafter, the law’s constitutionality was repeatedly challenged.
In Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), the Supreme Court ruled government can’t punish inflammatory speech unless directed to incite lawless action.
In Texas v. Johnson (a 1989 flag burning case), Justice William Brennan wrote the majority opinion, saying:
“(I)f there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable.”
Other challenges won and lost. Winning today is harder than ever. Free expression in America’s on the chopping block for elimination. Without it all other rights are jeopardized.
Whistleblowers like Bradley Manning exposed war crimes. Soldiers and witnesses are obligated to do so. Others revealed CIA torture, NSA warrantless wiretapping, and other constitutional violations. Doing so is heroic, not criminal.
Justice Hugo Black once said: “Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.” America fails the test.
A US grand jury reportedly continues investigating alleged WikiLeaks Espionage Act violations. Revealing vital truths is constitutionally protected speech. Investigative journalists do the same thing.
Former State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said investigating WikiLeaks undermines Washington’s credibility to pressure other countries to address press freedom.
In recent years, anyone publicly supporting WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning, or other whistleblowers risks harassment when traveling. Police state tactics confront them. They include strip searches, confiscation of laptops, cellphones and cameras, and arrests.
Dual US/French citizen Pascal Abidor was targeted. In 2011, traveling from Montreal to New York on Amtrak, he was confronted at the border, questioned, handcuffed, taken off the train, and kept behind bars for hours before being released. His laptop was also seized, kept 11 days and searched before being returned. Many others face similar treatment.
At the same time the State Department piously “advocates for freedom of expression,” it’s egregiously violated at home and abroad.
On March 16, ABC News reported that Obama officials pressured the Yemeni government to keep journalist Abd al-Ilah Al-Shai’i behind bars “for alleged terrorist ties.”
At issue is heroic investigative journalism. Al-Shai’i revealed civilian deaths and injuries from US drone attacks. Washington wants them suppressed.
Dozens of journalists covering Occupy Wall Street demonstrations have been harassed, assaulted and arrested from New York to San Francisco. Societies committing these offenses aren’t free. One abuse follows another. Freedom’s eventually lost. America is racing toward it. Bipartisan complicity backs it.
America a Total Surveillance Society
Post-9/11, spying on ordinary Americans became policy. Telecommunication companies cooperate. Phone calls, emails, and other communications are monitored.
In 2005, it was learned that the National Security Agency (NSA) lawlessly intercepts phone calls and Internet communications. AT&T actively cooperates without informing customers. Privacy rights are violated.
In October 2001, George Bush issued a secret presidential order. It’s in force today. It authorized warrantless NSA surveillance without statutory or court authorization.
Doing so violates the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). It covers prescribed surveillance procedures relating to “foreign intelligence information” between “foreign powers” and “agents of foreign powers.”
It restricts surveillance of US citizens and residents to those engaged in espionage in America and territory under US control. No longer. AT&T and other telecommunication companies work cooperatively with Washington.
Millions of customers are monitored. Sophisticated data-mining follows. Everyone potentially is vulnerable. Few know what’s going on. Many fewer protest against it.
On May 2, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) headlined, “Time to Make Warrantless Home Video Surveillance Extinct,” saying:
Post-9/11, warrantless spying became policy. Even secret videotaping monitor people at home. On May Day, EFF submitted an amicus curiae brief in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. It relates to United States of America v. Ricky S. Wahchumwah.
EFF challenged lawless warrantless home video surveillance. It violates Fourth Amendment rights. It states:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Wahchumwah’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated. An undercover US Fish and Wildlife Service agent secretly recorded information inside his home on a concealed video camera in his clothes.
Wahchumwah was charged with violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and Lacey Act for allegedly selling bald and gold eagle feathers. He moved to disallow lawlessly obtained video information. His motion was denied. He appealed. EFF supports him.
In United States v. Jones (January 2012), the Supreme Court ruled the Fourth Amendment prohibits using warrantless GPS surveillance to monitor a person’s car on public roads for 28 days.
The decision applies to video surveillance at home. Wahchumwah let the agent enter his home. He didn’t agree to videotaping, especially doing it secretly.
EFF said “intensive video surveillance” previously “was reserved for serious, violent crimes.” Now it’s possible for any reason targeting anyone, including secretly at home.
A Final Comment
A 2008 ACLU report titled “American Surveillance Society” said:
Post-9/11, mass surveillance became policy. Ordinary Americans are watched intrusively. Their “telephone calls and e-mails, web browsing records, financial records, credit reports, and library records” are monitored.
“(P)eaceful political and religious activities” are watched. Everyone is swept up in national dragnet to monitor virtually everything about everyone secretly “with little or no oversight by the courts, Congress, or the public.”
Big brother arrived with electronic ease. Constitutional rights are violated. Freedom is slipping away fast. A 2003 ACLU report said “Big Brother is No Longer a Fiction.” America is a “total surveillance society.”
Today everyone is unprotected. Washington takes full advantage. Surveillance grows like a “monster.” Unknowingly, ordinary people are lawlessly targeted.
Unchecked government power threatens freedom. In America, it’s perilously close to life support.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled “How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.