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SPJ appalled by alleged treatment of journalist by Customs and Border Protection official


Patricia Gallagher Newberry, SPJ National President, 513-702-4065, pattinewberryspj@gmail.com
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Director of Communications and Marketing, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Society of Professional Journalists is appalled at the treatment of a journalist by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection official late last week during which the official allegedly withheld the journalist’s passport until he admitted that he writes “propaganda.”

Ben Watson, a reporter for Defense One, a news outlet that covers defense and national security, was returning to Dulles International Airport in Virginia from an assignment in Denmark when the incident occurred.

SPJ is glad to hear that CBP is investigating the incident, but we request that the Department of Homeland Security inspector general thoroughly review the situation as well and then take appropriate action related to the official’s behavior. SPJ also requests that CBP should provide training for all of its employees on how to appropriately and respectfully interact with journalists and other members of the public.

A CBP spokesperson said, “We hold our employees accountable to our core values of vigilance, integrity and service to country, and do not tolerate inappropriate comments or behavior by our employees." That's a start, but this is just the latest incident in which a government official has harassed or denied access to a journalist. In September, a reporter for Buzzfeed News was denied access to immigration court in Texas. In the past couple of years, across the United States, journalists' press passes are being revoked, equipment is being seized and journalists are being arrested.

“This is a disturbing pattern of activity that prevents journalists from doing their jobs of informing the public about what is happening,” said SPJ National President Patricia Gallagher Newberry. “And it happens more than we know, in small towns and big cities across the country. When cries of ‘propaganda’ and ‘fake news’ are repeated enough, it chips away little by little at this pillar of democracy. Journalists are here to get the facts and present them to the public. It’s disturbing to see so many people willing to cast aside the free press and its right to hold the powerful to account and inform the public.”

Journalists facing these types of situations who find themselves in a legal battle should apply for help from the SPJ Legal Defense Fund. The primary role of the LDF is to initiate and support litigation that enforces public access to government records and proceedings, which can be the most expensive way to defend the First Amendment.

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund or give to the SPJ Foundation.


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