US press not so free, experts say

US press not so free, experts say

US - Falling short of delivering his campaign promise to bring about an "open and transparent" government, US President Barack Obama is further squeezing space for media through tight information control and aggressive prosecution of leaks, observers say.

In mid-October, the Committee to Protect Journalists, a US independent nonprofit organisation based in New York, issued a special report, slamming the Obama administration for prosecuting government sources and seizing journalists' records, saying this jeopardizes the future of investigative journalism.

Experts said that Washington is tightening its information control, but meanwhile, it is still flaunting its "free press" slogan around the world while interfering with other countries' internal affairs.

Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post, wrote the 30-page analysis, which is the first time the organisation has cast scrutiny on the Obama administration's relationship with the media.

"In Washington, government officials are increasingly afraid to talk to the press," said Downie, who is now a journalism professor at Arizona State University.

"The Obama administration's aggressive war on leaks and its determined efforts to control information that the news media needs to hold the government accountable for its actions are without an equal since the Nixon administration," he added.

Compared with his predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, analysts said Obama has been pursuing tighter press control out of national security concerns and constant secret divulgences.

Li Haidong, a professor of US studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said the US government has been tightening information control to fight terrorism and the US is indeed the target of many terrorist attacks.

"The Edward Snowden case, which badly stained the US' image overseas, was one example of how Washington has tightened press control in reaction to security leaks," Li said. "It exposed some loopholes in the secrecy systems of the US interior and prompted the government to realise the importance of its secrets.

"In this way, media will find that it is more difficult to supervise the government," Li added.

Since 2009, six US government employees and two contractors, including Snowden, have been prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act for leaking classified information to the media, in contrast to just three such prosecutions filed in all previous US administrations, the report said.

Downie interviewed numerous reporters and editors following revelations this year that the government secretly seized records for telephone lines and switchboards used by more than 100 Associated Press journalists. He also interviewed journalists whose sources have been prosecuted on felony charges.

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