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Committee to investigate US government's treatment of reporters

September 30, 2013

For three decades, the Committee to Protect Journalists has reported on assaults on press freedoms in China, Iran, Syria and other countries with government regimes traditionally hostile to a free and robust news media.

This year, for the first time, the Committee is conducting a major investigation of attacks on press freedoms by the U.S. government, led by an Arizona State University professor.

“Journalists working in the United States have told us that their work has become more difficult as aggressive leak investigations and prosecutions have chilled certain kinds of reporting,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Earlier this year, the Committee to Protect Journalists asked Leonard Downie Jr., the former Washington Post executive editor now serving as the Weil Family Professor of Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, to lead a study focusing on press treatment by the Obama administration.

“Given his experience as both an academic and media professional, Len Downie is the right person to look at these complex issues with clarity and purpose,” said Simon. “We look forward to his findings, which we hope will help lead to improved conditions for journalists in this country and ensure the United States continues to set a press freedom example for the world.”

The Downie report will be released at a news conference at 10 a.m., Oct. 10 in the Newseum’s Knight Studios at the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue and Sixth Street N.W.

The report comes at a time when U.S. journalists are finding it increasingly difficult to do their jobs in the face of aggressive criminal leak investigations and unprecedented government limitations on access and information. Just last week, a former FBI explosive expert agreed to plead guilty to revealing secret information to The Associated Press about an intelligence operation in Yemen in 2012. The story led to a leaks investigation and the seizure of AP phone records in the government's search for the information's source. In a similar case, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News was subjected to intense government monitoring as part of an investigation into possible leaks of classified information about North Korea in 2009.

“The fact that the Committee to Protect Journalists felt compelled to investigate the U.S. government’s treatment of the press is a remarkable statement here in the home of the First Amendment,” said Christopher Callahan, dean of the Cronkite School. “U.S. government tactics are increasingly impeding journalists and having a chilling effect on news gathering that can endanger our democracy.”

The committee is an independent, nonprofit organization founded 32 years ago to promote and defend press freedom and rights around the world. Each year it documents attacks on the press and on journalists, compiling an annual census of journalist fatalities, the number of journalists incarcerated around the work and the number in exile from their countries. It also assists journalists around the world who have been targeted for their work.

Each year the organization issues about a half-dozen special reports on the state of the press in selected countries where press freedom has been an issue. So far in 2013, the committee has completed reports on Burma, China, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and Tanzania. The only time the U.S. has been the subject of a report was more than 20 years ago. That report was limited to attacks on immigrant journalists in the United States.