The Associated Press in several major newspapers Thursday called on the U.S. government to address its vague and poorly defined laws surrounding the protection of journalists and media freedom.
In letters to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and various agencies, the AP said protecting journalists is important for American democracy.
The group asked that the Departments of Justice, State, Defense, State and Treasury redact names of government workers involved in questions about what protection journalists have. It also called for the government to clarify its understanding of terms like privilege and exemption to ensure journalists have the information and protection they need. The group also wants the government to consider requesting protective orders in matters involving national security.
“Journalists need protection against threats and retaliation. We call on the government to reform these laws and to better protect journalists now and in the future,” said an AP statement from Guillermo Martinez, the news cooperative’s executive vice president and general counsel.
The government has struggled to answer some of the question posed by the AP. The Justice Department acknowledged in a letter to the AP on Nov. 1 that it had not studied dozens of instances of reporters who were charged in criminal cases since at least 2012 and not prosecuted by the department.
Government officials have repeatedly sought to justify why journalists are not automatically entitled to protection against retaliation by government employees. The government argues that the laws regulating these matters have become increasingly vague and vague and that it needs more time and guidance to properly determine when the protections are applicable.
In December, DOJ asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a group of news organizations against a wiretap order granted to the FBI to allow agents to interview a suspected foreign spy. The Associated Press and the News Media Alliance, which represents more than 2,000 newspapers, are part of the coalition.
The wire service unsuccessfully argued that the case should be dismissed because, even if the group is granted an exemption from special privilege that would protect the FBI, a government employee could use it to do anything.
The government cited 18 U.S.C. Section 501, which protects information obtained under a specific procedure in the pursuit of one specific criminal act. The process requires that the employee who requests to read the records if it is to be used in a specific criminal investigation must have contact with someone in the U.S. who has received the records or must have first received the records in an official capacity.