A SLAPP to the Face

Plus, Donald Trump and Imran Khan ignore press freedom. What else is new?

I’m Scott Nover. Welcome back to Pressing, a newsletter about press freedom. If you haven’t yet subscribed, you can do so here and receive this letter in your inbox every Tuesday morning.

This is the seventh issue of Pressing and we’ve got a lot of news from the U.S. and around the world. Please keep the feedback coming and send thoughts, suggestions, and tips my way at sgnover@gmail.com. Let’s jump in.

Trump Mocks Calls to Raise Press Freedom with Pakistani Prime Minister

Ahead of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the White House Monday, The Washington Post editorial board wrote that President Donald Trump needs to bring up press freedom concerns under Khan’s government. The Post cited the case of Cyril Almeida, the Pakistani journalist charged with treason in September, as an example of how “press criticism of the army, the courts and the government has been muffled by systematic intimidation.” The column concludes on a not-so-hopeful note:

Mr. Trump’s repeated condemnations of U.S. media don’t leave much hope that he will step up for free expression in Pakistan. But he or his aides ought to be pressing the subject with Mr. Khan. There’s not much chance that chronically fraught U.S.-Pakistani relations can improve unless civilian-led democracy grows stronger in Islamabad. And for now, it is headed in the wrong direction.

While it’s unclear if President Trump brought raised the issue in his bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Khan on Monday, he certainly did not bring up press freedom in his public remarks ahead of the meeting.

However, in a Q&A following those remarks, Voice of America journalist Nadeem Yaqub had the following exchange with the two world leaders when he tried to press the issue. You’ll see that Trump naturally made it about himself and made a mockery of the reporter’s serious question:

Q: … PM, question to you regarding the freedom of the press in Pakistan: There are a lot of curbs on the freedom of press, on the media, on the journalists. Can you comment on that?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Go ahead, please.

PRIME MINISTER KHAN: Pakistan press — to scorn Pakistan press as if there’s curbs on it.  Pakistan has one of the freest presses in the world.  All you have to do is — since I’ve been the Prime Minister in the last 10 months — I mean, the criticism I have received from my own press: unprecedented.

So to say that there are curbs on Pakistan press is a joke.

Q: Mr. Prime Minister, I —

PRESIDENT TRUMP: When you say “unprecedented,” it can’t —

Q: Mr. Prime Minister —

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Wait a minute.  Wait, wait, wait. There’s no way you’re treated worse than I am. (Laughter.)

PRIME MINISTER KHAN: (Laughs.) It’s worse than you.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I mean, that can’t be.

Additionally, the Committee to Protect Journalists is reporting that the popular Pakistani news network, Geo News, which is privately owned, has been “forced off the air or had its channel number abruptly changed in many parts of the country” as of Sunday.

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Around the States

  • From The Roanoke Times: At a U.S. Senate hearing, Andy Parker, the father of slain WDBJ reporter Alison Parker, urges Congress to regulate big tech and curb the spread of violent content online.

  • The San Francisco Chronicle editorial board writes that the San Francisco Police Department “should clear the air on [the] rogue search” of freelance journalist Bryan Carmody. The First Amendment Coalition, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Society of Professional Journalists won a court victory when a judge “ordered police to publicly release sealed documents relating to a search warrant” of Carmody’s home and office in May.

  • From the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker: A Florida judge rejected a contempt petition against the South Florida Sun Sentinel and two reporters — Brittany Wallman and Paula McMahon — after the newspaper published “the entirety of an improperly redacted report” about the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The redactions were done sloppily, and simply copying and pasting the text into a new document would reveal the redacted text.

  • Gabe Rottman of the RCFP writes about the effort to expand the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) in Defense One, a story we covered in depth last week. “The proposed expansion… may pose its biggest threat to transparency and accountability by dissuading intelligence agency sources and whistleblowers from going public with information about misconduct or even threats to the agencies themselves, like moles,” he writes

  • Jason Rezaian tweets, “5 years ago today, my wife and I were abducted from our home in Tehran, beginning a long, terrible & unjust ordeal. Officials in #Iran have obviously learned little from that episode, as they continue their 40 year practice of hostage taking, glorifying it at every opportunity.” On Monday, Iran said it arrested 17 Iranian citizens on charges of spying for the United States, The New York Times reports. The Tehran bureau chief for The Washington Post, Rezaian and his wife Yeganeh were falsely accused of espionage, which led to their bogus imprisonment in Iran’s Evin Prison.

A SLAPP to the Face

After she received numerous civil libel lawsuits relating to her groundbreaking reporting on the regulation of digital technology, Observer reporter Carole Cadwalladr — who was one of first reporters on the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal — is being defended by her editor, who has penned an open letter to top British officials deriding SLAPPs. SLAPPs, or strategic lawsuits against public participation, are lawsuits designed, above all, to silence and intimidate those exercising free speech. They are typically levied by those wealthy enough to do so. British billionaire Arron Banks, who sued the journalist, has also threatened legal action against Netflix for its new documentary The Great Hack, which highlights Cadwalladr’s reporting on Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. The open letter by Observer editor Paul Webster and others reads:

The legal claim against Ms Cadwalladr, issued on 12 July by lawyers acting for Arron Banks, is another example of a wealthy individual appearing to abuse the law in an attempt to silence a journalist and distract from these issues being discussed by politicians, the media and the public at a critical time in the life of our democracy.

The open letter urges Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, and Jeremy Wright, the culture secretary to consider legislation to prevent SLAPPs, which Webster writes have been rampant across Europe.

In the United States, select states have anti-SLAPP statutes that often allow for the lawsuit to be thrown out if deemed predatory by a judge. However, these statues vary drastically by state. Does your state have protection? You can check this nifty chart from the Public Participation Project.

Around the Globe

  • In Egypt, Ahmed Mosi, who was arrested in February for holding up a sign that said “Go away, Sisi,” will be released according to Egyptian blogger The Big Pharaoh.

  • Journalists have been attacked in the Hong Kong protests, a New York Times report indicates. Gwyneth Ho, a reporter for the Hong-Kong based website Stand News, wrote on Facebook about needing stitches after being attacked. According to the Times, she live-streamed the whole attack.

  • From the CPJ: Freelance Syrian photjournalist Alaa Nayef al-Khader al-Khalidi died during state torture in Sednaya Military Prison.

  • Four French TV journalists for the publicly-owned France2 — have been arrested while covering environmental protests near the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Reporters Without Borders writes.

A Message to the Washington Nationals: #FreeAustinTice

The National Press Club’s Bill McCarren tweeted at the Washington Nationals, asking for them to allow Marc Tice to raise awareness for his son by throwing out the first pitch at a game this weekend. Tice is the father of kidnapped American journalist Austin Tice, who the family believes is alive and being held in Syria. Tice has been missing since August 2012.

“The United States government has assured us that Austin is still alive… and that this is a viable mission,” Austin’s mom Debra Tice said in a recent interview with Fox News. “So it’s not just a mom and dad and wishful thinking. It’s verifiable information.”

The Nationals did not respond to McCarrren’s tweet.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next Tuesday! Send tips and feedback to sgnover@gmail.com.