Regardless of whether or not Julian Assange is a “journalist,” the May 23 indictment of Assange crosses a clear constitutional line.
In the 102-year history of the Espionage Act, the United States has never deployed that Act to punish the publication of information. An interpretation of the Espionage Act to criminally punish publication of information plainly violates the First Amendment. In taking the unprecedented and unsupported position that federal law can prohibit the publication of information, Counts 15, 16 and 17 of the Assange indictment pose a direct assault on investigative journalism, responsible reporters and the First Amendment.
In announcing the indictment yesterday, John Demers of the Justice Department said that the department “takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy… It is not and has never been the department’s policy to target them for reporting.” Despite that assurance, that is precisely what the Assange indictment has done. Counts 15, 16 and 17 of the indictment cannot stand, and the Espionage Act cannot be transformed into a U.S. equivalent of censorship measures, such as the U.K.’s Official Secrets Act.
We call upon the Department of Justice to remedy this constitutional fault and remove the offending counts from the indictment. If those counts are retained, we will be forced to challenge any interpretation of the Espionage Act that would impact the responsible journalism undertaken by our members.
David Chavern serves as President & CEO of the News Media Alliance. Chavern has built a career spanning 30 years in executive strategic and operational roles, and most recently completed a decade-long tenure at the United States Chamber of Commerce. View bio.