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Government out of line in condemning press that reported on surveillance activities

For Immediate Release:

David Carlson, SPJ president, (352) 846-0171 or carlson@spj.org
Joe Skeel, SPJ communication, (317) 927-8000 ext. 214 or jskeel@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The U.S. House of Representatives entered dangerous territory Thursday when it passed a resolution condoning administration surveillance activities and condemning news organizations for disclosing surveillance of bank records, said David Carlson, president of the Society of Professional Journalists.

“This measure was passed without Congressional investigation and without a moment of hearings,” Carlson said. “On the other hand, media organizations spent significant time considering their decisions to publish this news. They carefully and thoughtfully weighed the potential impacts of their choices after hearing from Administration officials, national security experts and reporters on the case.

“There’s a thin line between official government condemnation of press coverage and violating Constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press.”

The House passed a resolution stating its support for intelligence and law enforcement programs to track terrorists and terrorist finances. Part of that resolution stated that the House “expects the cooperation of all news media organizations in protecting the lives of Americans and the capability of the government to identify, disrupt, and capture terrorists by not disclosing classified intelligence programs such as the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program.”

The resolution came largely in response to stories about the surveillance activities that were broken by The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times last week.

News organizations do not break such stories without careful consideration, Carlson said, and they are not uncooperative or unpatriotic.

“Reporters and editors are Americans, too,” he said. “We have no desire to undermine our country. It’s just the opposite. We believe it is our duty to inform Americans of how the government is using its power, and how that use affects the people’s rights.

“Reporters and editors are not always going to agree with the government on what information is vital for Americans to know. Americans are not always going to agree on what’s good for the nation,” Carlson added. “That’s the beauty of our form of government. Having divergent opinions and being able to express them is at the root of democracy.”

It is extremely dangerous to democracy when the government attempts to decide what citizens need to know and when it attempts to intimidate the news media, said Carlson. A major role of the news media in a democratic society is to demand accountability from government.

“This is very dangerous territory,” Carlson said. “A timid press is not doing its patriotic duty in helping citizens to maintain their oversight of government, and a government without effective citizen oversight is no longer a democracy.”

Carlson urges journalists and citizens everywhere to note which of their representatives voted for the measure and to hold them accountable at election time.

Helpful Links:
See how Representatives voted.
Read the full resolution.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.


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