Freedom of the press is praised as a pillar of American democracy, the cornerstone of a free society – but American press is not as free as most think.
Arch Puddington, the director of research for Freedom House, said “The United States has the freest environment for the press in the world.”
But journalists have been under attack in the United States. Their first amendment rights has been violated and their status as the watchdogs of democracy, dismissed.
“I myself have been arrested as a member of the press,” radio host Alex Jones said.“I’ve seen other press arrested and they say do same thing, move to this area, then once you do that, they still go ahead an arrest you.”
During the 2002 World Bank meetings hundreds were arrested, including journalists like Debra Kahn.
“The charge was resisting to disperse and that was on our record until settlement came through,” Kahn said.
Journalists say they are censured by the police because the press captures their treatment of demonstrators.
“They know the media is a serious check and balance against government tyranny,” said Jones.
And it’s not just while covering demonstrations. Some journalists feel their liberties have been threatened when they’ve challenged America’s so-called war on terror.
Pulitzer Prize winning correspondent James Risen was subpoenaed by the justice department over confidential sources.
“The more direct part is to frighten people in the government from talking, is to have a chilling effect on whistle blowers, to make them understand there is a big brother that will get them if they step out of line,” Risen said.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was labeled a ”high tech terrorist” by vice president Joe Biden for publishing leaked U.S. Government documents and a video showing US helicopter pilots shooting unarmed reporters in Iraq could be charged with espionage.
It’s a move that is setting a dangerous precedent according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
“The notion that someone could be prosecuted for disseminating someone under the espionage act in our view, would open the door for subsequent prosecution of journalists,” said Joel Simon, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The prosecution of journalists doesn’t concern everyone though. At the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Ann Coulter said she thought there should be more jailed journalists and that statement was met with a resounding applause.
So while the U.S. proclaims its press free, others are calling for new measures to be taken.
“This kind of oppression has got to stop,” said Amy Goodman. “We have to be able to report to ensure we live in a democratic society.”
Jeff Cohen, a journalism professor at Ithaca College in New York and the author of “Cable News Confidential” said there have been a number of incidents in the US where journalists were arrested, harassed, and detained for political reasons.
“We have a relatively good amount of press freedom in this country,” he said. “What shocked me when I worked at cable television news, at MSNBC and elsewhere, is how timid journalists were in this country.”
In the US, journalists work for giant corporations and there are many timid media outlets afraid of hurting the reputation of their advertisers or networks. Journalists who try and step-out and report are often faced with challenges from their bosses and the government.
“If you follow along with the sheep and you don’t step out of line you’ll be pampered and privileged,” he added.
Independent journalist Brandon Jourdan explained Americans have a free press, so long as they work in a way the government approves.
Jourdan is often searched, his computer copied and information seized whenever he travels and has been arrested for simply trying to do his job.
“Every time I have been arrested or have been to the border, I have press credentials,” he said. “Routinely I see these violations of the first amendment.”
He said it should not matter that he is covering something that is controversial or the government disagrees with; he has rights as a journalist to a free press.
“After September 11, 2001 there was a creation of a state of exception,” Jourdan added.
The government has used the attacks to crack down on freedoms once enjoyed by many who simply want to do their jobs and report on what is happening.