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Journalists' Info Threat Level Raised

According to the reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the trend toward limiting journalists' access to information in the wake, and under the invocation, of 9/11 continues to grow.

"Citizens seem to not realize how drastically their right to know has been limited in the last three years," said Lucy Dalglish, RCFP director, in a statement on the release of its annual update, "Hoefront Confidential. "Even journalists will be astonished at the lengthy list of actions taken by public officials to turn basic government information into state secrets."

The committee has been keeping a running journalistic "threat level" that mirror's the government's own color-coded terrorist threat warnings. The two categories that remain at red alert are Freedom of Information Act restrictions and Access to Terrorism and Immigrations Proceedings, but two other categories have moved from elevated (yellow) to high (orange) status since last year's report: USA PATRIOT Act restrictions and reporters privilege.

Referring to the Patriot Act, the report concludes: " [T]he Justice Department has shown its willingness to use its powers aggressively, even making clear that a law barring newsroom searches is trumped by the [Act} when it comes to terrorism investigations.

On the issue of reporter privilege, it says: "With national security concerns dominating American life, U.S. journalists face an increased likelihood since September 11 of being seen as government informants, with no constitutional right to keep sources confidential or to withhold unpublished materials from prosecutors."

Dalglish told B&C that she was particularly concerned about access to terrorism and immigrations proceedings. The threat was red last year and red this year, the top threat level, "but if I could have made it neon, I would have," she said. "Incredible things have been happening to keep the public in the dark on anything quasi-judicial. And it's coming from the Bush administration and its coming from the courts and military tribunals and hearings…. We are locking people up and trying them in secret." As a lawyer, she says, "that is the most frightening thing that is happening."

She says she would also make the FOYA threats neon (again, high in both 2003 and 2004).

She says the increased threat level on reporter privilege is understandable. When the government shuts down access to information, sometimes the only way to get it is through leaks, she points out. And when you have leaks, she says, the government is going to try to go after the leakers by going after the media and their sources. Expect to see a lot more of that, Dalglish says.

The report is sent to newspeople, as well as think tanks and legislators, among others.