August 7, 2017 Last Updated 10:49 am

News Media Alliance blasts Attorney General’s statements on leaks and media subpoenas

‘The Attorney General’s statements are an attempt to stifle communications between government officials and journalists which will ultimately keep the public in the dark’

The News Media Alliance issued a statement today blasting the comments of Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday that seemed to indicate that the Department of Justice was looking at its policies concerning media subpoenas (see statement in full below).

The comments by the attorney general seemed to indicate a willingness by the DOJ to go after reporters who have received leaks and classified information. Sessions said his department has “tripled the number of active leak investigations.”

Jeff Sessions

“First, let me say I strongly agree with the President and condemn in the strongest terms the staggering number of leaks undermining the ability of our government to protect this country. Just yesterday, we saw reports in the media about conversations the President had with foreign leaders,” Session said on Friday. “No one is entitled to surreptitiously fight their battles in the media by revealing sensitive government information. No government can be effective when its leaders cannot discuss sensitive matters in confidence or to talk freely in confidence with foreign leaders.”

But some political observers were quick to interpret Sessions news conference as having an audience of one: the president. Trump has publicly ridiculed the attorney general and seemed to be forcing him out because of his decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Trump, his campaign, and Russian involvement in last year’s election.

“The public silence from Trump has Sessions’ aides and allies breathing a sigh of relief but it is an uneasy peace, marked by concern that the president’s ire could surface again at any moment,” wrote Josh Gerstein of Politico.

Still, the News Media Alliance said it condemns the statements made by the Attorney General and said the “Attorney General’s statements are an attempt to stifle communications between government officials and journalists which will ultimately keep the public in the dark.”

In July, NMA president and chief executive David Chavern wrote a column for The Wall Street Journal that asked the Congress for an antitrust exemption so that it could negotiate better terms with Facebook and Google, though there is little chance the Republican controlled Congress is in any mood to assist the newspaper industry (in fact, many GOP controlled state legislatures continue to try and roll back rules that require local governments to publish their legal notices in local newspapers).

Here is the statement from the News Media Alliance:

News Media Alliance Condemns Sessions’ Statements on Press Freedoms

On Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a press conference that the Department of Justice was “reviewing policies affecting media subpoenas.” He went on to say that the freedom of the press is not unlimited and has “this message for the intelligence community: The Department of Justice (DOJ) is open for business.”

The News Media Alliance is deeply troubled by these statements.

The News Media Alliance strongly condemns these statements, as they are an attempt to chill communications between the press and government officials.

The free flow of information to reporters is crucial in order to bring matters of great public importance to light. Threatening the use of subpoenas that could compel reporters to testify, and, in particular, to reveal the identity of a confidential source, will restrict the flow of information to reporters and ultimately to the public on matters of public interest, such as waste, fraud and abuse within the government and in the private sector.

“Now more than ever, we need to support journalists and the role the press plays in our society,” stated News Media Alliance President and CEO David Chavern.  “The freedom of the press is a First Amendment principle and a cornerstone of our democracy.  In order for our government to function properly, there needs to be accountability. The press provides a vital role in helping the public to hold the government accountable. The Attorney General’s statements are an attempt to stifle communications between government officials and journalists which will ultimately keep the public in the dark.”

A free press is our nation’s strongest defense against corruption and mismanagement. The greatest investigative stories of our time rely on the ability to protect sources and freely report on the federal government without fear of retribution. Reporters should be the last resort in a leak investigation, not the first. The DOJ’s guidelines for determining when the government can subpoena the media are well-balanced and constructed, and should not be changed.

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