Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Obama's Admininstration Most Aggressive Against Whistleblowers In US History



The steep decline in media freedom in the United States is reflected by Reporters without Borders (RSF) in its Press Freedom Index for 2014 by placing the US in position 46 – 13 behind what it occupied last year.

To bringing alive the statistics, partly by relating his own experience and partly by referring what had befallen his colleagues, was James Risen of the New York Times, Risen has been ordered by the Court of Appeals to give evidence in the trial of a whistleblower, Jeffrey Sterling, a CIA agent charged under the Espionage Act for leaking unauthorised information to Risen. 

Risen was speaking at a press conference convened by RSF at the National Press Club in Washington DC on Tuesday to release the 2014 Press Freedom Index. Also on the panel, chaired by Delphine Halgand, RSF’s director in Washington, were Huong Nguyen, a doctoral student at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law, cofounder of the Viet Youth for Democracy movement and a friend of jailed Vietnamese pro-democracy activist/blogger Nguyen Tien Trung, and Tolga Tanis, Washington correspondent for the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet.


 Risen said the Obama administration was the most aggressive in the history of the US in prosecuting whistleblowers and investigating leaks. “(The administration) wants to limit information on national security and what people know on the war on terror,” he said.

He went on to say that since normal oversight exercised within the bureaucracy such as by inspectors general in the Department of Defence, had “atrophied” and anyone going outside the chain of command to report grievances ran the risk of being targeted.

Halgand was no less critical in her opening remarks, “In the United States, the hunt for leaks and whistleblowers serves as a warning to those thinking of satisfying a public interests need for information about the imperial prerogatives assumed by the world’s leading power. The United Kingdom (position 33) has followed in the US wake, distinguishing itself by its harassment of The Guardian.”

Huong, speaking on press freedom in Vietnam and her friend Trung, said Trung founded Vietnamese Youth for Democracy movement. He was charged for propaganda against the state and has been jailed for seven years and three years probation in 2009. Huong said that part of Vietnam’s punishment of pro-democracy activists was harassing families of activists and Trung’s was not spared.

She also spoke laws deterring freedom of information on the internet and the use of administrative measures to deliberately make life difficult for bloggers to work. Huong said it had resulted in self-censorship.

“Independent news providers are subject to enhanced internet surveillance, draconian directives, waves of arrests and sham trials. Vietnam continues to be the second largest prison for bloggers and netizens,” said RSF.

Speaking about Turkey, Tanis said, “Gezi Park was a turning point. Until Gezi, [Prime Minister Tyyip Erdogan’s] government controlled the media. He said the ruling party was able to achieve this by creating a media supporting it and suppressing those against it.”

However with the confrontation at Gezi Park, where 150 journalists were injured and 39 detained, the media had become bolder and more willing to take on the government. It was because of this evolution that the media was willing to challenge the government on issues of corruption he said. The corruption scandal that broke out last December has resulted in senior members of Erdogan’s government resigning and the regime clamping down further on internet freedom through Law 5651.

“There are number of examples of governments abusing the ‘fight against terrorism.’ In Turkey, (154th) dozens of journalists have been detained on this pretext, above all, those who cover the Kurdish issue,” said Halgand.

 Please click here to read RSF’s Press Freedom Index 2014.

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