The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

June 12, 2013

Government’s own media guidelines should be upheld

Enid News & Eagle

— A month ago, we strongly opposed the Justice Department secretly obtaining two months of telephone records of editors and reporters from The Associated Press.

The news cooperative’s top executive accurately described it a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into how media organizations gather the news.

The Associated Press Media Editors Association criticized this seizure in the strongest possible terms, rightfully joining other journalists nationwide.

Now the Society of Professional Journalists is expressing concern about the possible weakening of existing Justice Department guidelines governing investigations involving the media. These guidelines were established in 1972.

“While not perfect from a journalist’s perspective, the guidelines are quite good,” said SPJ President Sonny Albarado in a letter responding to Attorney General Eric Holder’s invitation to attend one of a series of off-the-record policy meetings at Justice. “We would object to any attempt to water them down, include new exceptions and caveats or otherwise make it easier for the government to disregard.”

SPJ correctly believes the Justice Department violated the guidelines in its subpoena of phone records as part of a classified-information leak probe.

“We disagree with your intention to hold off-the-record sessions and were glad to see that you agreed in previous meetings to the dissemination of summaries of the content of those meetings,” Albarado wrote. “We believe even more transparency is required for such important issues as press freedom and government intrusion into the news-gathering process.”

Journalists aren’t in this profession for the money. To paraphrase Albarado, most passionately strive — with the help of government sources — to ensure that articles about our country do not compromise or harm lawful national security activities.

It’s a humbling responsibility for the Fourth Estate.