Obama praises press freedom, mum on transparency issues

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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President Obama praised the role of a free press at home and abroad in a statement Thursday, but failed to address his administration’s entangled alliances with special interest groups devoted to the destruction of Fox News. He also made no mention of the apparent decline of press freedom in the U.S.

In a report published Tuesday, Freedom House published a report revealing it had downgraded the U.S. in its annual index for measuring press freedom worldwide. That same day, the progressive group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) petitioned the FCC to revoke the 27 U.S. broadcast licenses held by media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., Fox’s parent company.

Freedom House said it downgraded the U.S. because of the rough tactics police employed against journalists during the early days of the 2011 Occupy protests.

While the U.S. declined one point on Freedom House’s index, it had already fallen behind countries like Estonia and Jamaica. A more dramatic downgrade of 22 points, however, was issued in January by Reporters without Borders, which ranked the U.S. as 47th in the world behind countries like Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania, Slovenia and France.

The U.S. government has also faced criticism in recent years for targeting journalists and their sources in the name of national security.

Salon.com reported on April 8 that a 2011 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) revealed that in an 18-month period, beginning in October 2008, the Department of Homeland Security subjected over 6,600 journalists to electronic searches at the border without securing the necessary warrants.

CREW’s latest request to the FCC comes on the heels of the release of the U.K. Parliament’s damning report regarding the phone-hacking scandal that rocked the U.K. in 2011. After it became clear that British tabloids had hacked into the voicemail boxes of celebrities and other persons of interest, the U.K. government condemned Rupert Murdoch as “unfit to run a major international company.”

CREW’s transparency request  — expedited by the FCC within 30 days of the organization filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request — was initiated in part because of the phone-hacking scandal. In July 2011, however, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski had told U.S. lawmakers that the FCC would not engage in an investigation of News Corp.’s phone-hacking practices.

The FCC complied with CREW’s request for any and all documents pertaining to the extent of the influence Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. might have held in Congress. CREW claimed its request was to investigate whether News Corp. had engaged in unethical activities against its employees or the families of the 9-11 victims.

Critics say that not all such requests to the FCC are treated equally, however. Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said he had been stonewalled in his attempts to get the agency’s records concerning LightSquared, which has come under fire for how its technology disrupts GPS signals and it’s close ties to the Obama administration. The FCC rejected Grassley’s request for documents because it claimed he did not possess the adequate jurisdiction over the agency.

“The FCC has played games for a year on LightSquared documents,” Grassley told TheDC last month. ”In fact, I know even FOIA requesters who have been waiting for almost a year for LightSquared documents.”

Grassley was later able to obtain copies of the 13,000 documents on the LightSquared affair from the House Energy & Commerce Committee, released by the FCC at the end of April. The FCC is expected to release more documents on the matter soon.

The FCC speedily obliged CREW’s request for News Corp. documents with 233 pages of documents from between January 1, 2006 – July 15, 2011. The cache provided by the FCC included “176 pages of email communications between parties outside of the agency and Commission personnel and 57 pages of Congressional correspondence.”

Additionally, a Daily Caller investigation in February revealed the administration’s close relationship with Media Matters for America, a progressive organization that repeatedly targets Fox News and conservative journalists. TheDC has also learned that Media Matters and the National Organization for Women are now waging a campaign to force syndicated radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh off the air.

The FCC declined TheDC’s request for comment regarding CREW’s latest petition over News Corp. and Fox News.

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