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New press freedom group is launched to block US government attacks

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Cross-posted from The Guardian

Nothing is more vital than enabling true transparency and adversarial journalism, and preventing further assaults on them

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Excessive secrecy is the linchpin of government abuse of power. Photograph: Alamy

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the steps taken by the US government to pressure large corporations to choke off the finances and other means of support for WikiLeaks in retaliation for the group's exposure of substantial government deceit, wrongdoing and illegality. Because WikiLeaks has never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime, I wrote: "that the US government largely succeeded in using extra-legal and extra-judicial means to cripple an adverse journalistic outlet is a truly consequential episode." At the end of that column, I disclosed that I had been involved in discussions "regarding the formation of a new organization designed to support independent journalists and groups such as WikiLeaks under attack by the US and other governments."

That group has now been formed and, this morning, was formally launched. Its name is Freedom of the Press Foundation. Its website is here and its Twitter account, which will be quite active, is @FreedomOfPress.

I'm very excited to have participated in its formation and will serve as an unpaid member of the Board of Directors, along with the heroic whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, 2012 McArthur-fellowship-receipient and Oscar-nominated documentarian Laura Poitras, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation John Perry Barlow, the actor and civil liberties advocate John Cusack, BoingBoing co-founder Xeni Jardin, and several other passionate free press and transparency activists. Numerous articles have been written today about its launch, including from the New York Times' media reporter David Carr, the Guardian's Dan GillmorForbes' Andy GreenbergHuffington Post's media reporter Michael CalderoneFDL's Kevin Gosztola, and board member Josh Stearns.

The primary impetus for the formation of this group was to block the US government from ever again being able to attack and suffocate an independent journalistic enterprise the way it did with WikiLeaks. Government pressure and the eager compliance of large financial corporations (such as Visa, Master Card, Bank of America, etc.) has -- by design -- made it extremely difficult for anyone to donate to WikiLeaks, while many people are simply afraid to directly support the group (for reasons I explained here).

We intend to raise funds ourselves and then distribute it to the beneficiaries we name. The first group of beneficiaries includes WikiLeaks. We can circumvent those extra-legal, totally inappropriate blocks that have been imposed on the group. We can enable people to support WikiLeaks without donating directly to it by donating to this new organization that will then support a group of deserving independent journalism outlets, one of which is WikiLeaks. In sum, we will render impotent the government's efforts to use its coercive pressure over corporations to suffocate not only WikiLeaks but any other group it may similarly target in the future.

The second purpose is to ensure that truly independent journalistic outlets -- devoted to holding the US government and other powerful factions accountable with transparency and real adversarial journalism -- are supported to the fullest extent possible. Along those lines, we have selected three other organizations along with WikiLeaks as our initial beneficiaries:

Muckrock News, a truly innovative group devoted to enabling any citizen easily and quickly to file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or public records requests with the government, and then "guides the requests through the system so the government does not disregard" them. They also act as a news organization by analyzing and publicizing any newsworthy information they and their users uncover. Currently, "they are conducting a Drone Census of the United States, filing public records requests around the country that ask police agencies if they plan on buying domestic drones for surveillance purposes."

The UpTake, a Minnesota-based group that uses truly innovative means to break "down walls of power to expose the raw truth by pushing for transparency and access to information." They use citizen journalism, crowd-sourcing and cutting-edge technology to film and document the bad acts of government agents. I worked next to them when I covered the incredibly excessive federal and local police actions and brutality against protesters at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, and was truly impressed with them then, as I watched all sorts of young activists and older ones use hand-held video cameras and phones to comprehensively cover all sorts of police abuses being ignored by most large journalistic outlets, which were comfortably ensconced inside the convention hall. They've expanded their operations substantially since then, have a long list of achievements to tout, and -- most excitingly to me -- can serve as a template for how to engage in real journalism across the country using citizens and the power of technology.

The National Security Archive, a group founded "by journalists and scholars to check rising government secrecy" and which "combines a unique range of functions: investigative journalism center, research institute on international affairs, library and archive of declassified U.S. documents." It also "serves as an advocacy organization to defend and expand citizen access to government information," as exemplified by its having "filed over 40,000 targeted Freedom of Information and declassification requests to more than 200 offices and agencies of the United States." Anyone who writes about or works on transparency and civil liberties issues (including me) depends on it; due to its efforts, "more than 10 million pages of previously secret U.S. government documents have been made public."

Each of these groups is innovating real, adversarial journalism. They deserve the support of anyone who believes that rampant government secrecy and a supine establishment media are serious problems. And our new organization needs the support of everyone who finds the ability of the US government to shut off the funding of journalistic groups it dislikes to be threatening and wrong.

By clicking here, you can donate to all four of these groups at once or to any combination of them in whatever amounts you specify. Every two months, we will release a new bundle of deserving groups or individuals devoted to these values of independent, adversarial journalism and in need. You can also donate directly to the Freedom of Press Foundation, which will distribute the funds to the beneficiaries in accordance with our published criteria. All of the details of the group's operation, mission, and goals are here. Those who lack the resources to donate can help in other ways, listed here.

Secrecy is the linchpin of abuse of power. Few priorities are more important, in my view, than supporting and enabling any efforts to subvert the ability of the US government and other factions to operate in the dark. It's particularly vital to undercut the US government's ability to punish and kill groups that succeed in these transparency efforts. Those are the goals to which this new press freedom foundation are devoted, and I hope that anyone who believes these goals are important will find ways to support this effort.

 

For the past 10 years, I was a litigator in NYC specializing in First Amendment challenges, civil rights cases, and corporate and securities fraud matters. I am the author of the New York Times Best-Selling book, How Would A Patriot (more...)
 
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I never wrote letters to the editor, voted, or was... by Steven G. Erickson on Tuesday, Dec 18, 2012 at 9:27:31 AM
Get a Mac bro, they are harder to fry. Especially ... by Davey Jones on Tuesday, Dec 18, 2012 at 9:51:27 AM
JFK warned the press about government secrecy and ... by Deborah Dills on Tuesday, Dec 18, 2012 at 2:08:32 PM
Sent a link to myself for future reference. T... by Daniel Geery on Tuesday, Dec 18, 2012 at 12:18:33 PM
What you and the others involved in this new endea... by intotheabyss on Tuesday, Dec 18, 2012 at 4:08:37 PM