#DefendPressFreedom campaign launched ahead of midterm elections

The Freedom Forum Institute and the Newseum have joined Reporters Without Borders (RSF) as two of 20 partner organizations in a campaign launched yesterday to encourage voters to ask their congressional candidates in United States midterm elections where they stand on press freedom.

The campaign seeks to focus the American public in protecting and defending the First Amendment and press freedom in particular — the missions of the Newseum and Freedom Forum Institute.

The #DefendPressFreedom campaign urges voters to contact their candidates through phone calls, letters, social media posts or at town-hall meetings to ask them where they stand on press freedom. Materials to help with those contacts are available at www.rsf.org.

In a statement about the nonpartisan initiative, RSF noted that “in the U.S., assaults against journalists and their profession are becoming more and more commonplace. Physical, verbal and online attacks against reporters undermine the media’s role as a critical pillar of democracy, consequently creating opportunities for government overreach, the erosion of the First Amendment and infringing on the people’s right to be informed.”

“The Freedom Forum Institute and the Newseum join in this call to action by the public in defense of our core freedoms,” said Gene Policinski, president of the Freedom Forum Institute. “Our annual ‘State of the First Amendment’ survey shows a sizeable majority of our fellow citizens believe in the role of the press as a ‘watchdog on government’ and see a free press as an essential element of democracy. We all must defend a free press against those who would put a leash on that ‘watchdog’ or encourage violence against journalists.”

The RSF statement noted:

  • On June 28, 2018, one of the most horrific attacks on press freedom in the U.S. unfolded when five employees, including four reporters, were killed at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Md. This shooting did not happen in a vacuum — open hostility against journalists is on the rise in the U.S.
  • While covering the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla., journalists were impersonated on social media, impeding their ability to accurately investigate the facts and disseminate information that could be vital for preventing similar tragedies.
  • In May 2017, then-congressional candidate Greg Gianforte body-slammed The Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs on the eve of his special election to the U.S. House of Representatives after Jacobs persistently asked him questions regarding healthcare reform — an issue that impacts every American.

“In a democracy like the United States, no journalist should be arrested, assaulted or threatened for simply doing their job,” said Margaux Ewen, executive director for RSF North America. “This is not a partisan issue; it is a fundamental right that impacts every American, no matter their politics.”

Gene Policinski is president and chief operating officer of the Freedom Forum Institute. He can be reached at gpolicinski@freedomforum.org, or follow him on Twitter at @genefac.

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