US media in court showdown over White House access

CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta (L) leaves US District Court after a hearing in Washington, DC, on November 14, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 15 November 2018
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US media in court showdown over White House access

  • CNN’s suit was backed by a broad coalition of media groups including rival Fox News, which is controlled by Trump ally Rupert Murdoch and often draws praise from the president
  • Trump’s administration initially said Acosta was banned for inappropriately touching a White House female intern as he struggled to hold on to a microphone

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump’s effort to revoke a CNN reporter’s credentials went to court Wednesday, in what media groups said was a matter of press freedom — while the White House argued it had a broad right to restrict access to the US president.
Lawyers for CNN and the White House argued before US District Judge Timothy Kelly, appointed last year by Trump, on the cable news channel’s request for an order reinstating correspondent Jim Acosta’s White House pass.
In an emergency hearing, CNN’s lawyer Ted Boutrous asked the judge for a temporary order allowing Acosta to get his pass back ahead of a full hearing on the matter.
Boutros argued banning Acosta violated the constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of a free press because it was “based on the viewpoint of Mr. Acosta” and not his behavior.
“They don’t like the reporting” of the CNN White House reporter, the lawyer said.
US Justice Department lawyer James Burnham echoed comments filed in a legal brief earlier in the day for the administration, saying that “there is no First Amendment right to access the White House” and that the rationale behind the decision was that Acosta “disrupted” a news conference last week.
Judge Kelly said he would issue his decision at 3:00 p.m. (2000 GMT) Thursday.
CNN’s suit was backed by a broad coalition of media groups including rival Fox News, which is controlled by Trump ally Rupert Murdoch and often draws praise from the president.
Fox said earlier Wednesday the banning of Acosta raises concerns over press freedom.
“Fox News supports CNN in its legal effort to regain its White House reporter’s press credential,” the news channel’s president Jay Wallace said in a statement, indicating it would join an amicus brief on supporting CNN.
“Secret Service passes for working White House journalists should never be weaponized,” he said.
“While we don’t condone the growing antagonistic tone by both the president and the press at recent media avails, we do support a free press, access and open exchanges for the American people.”

Others backing the CNN arguments in court included the Associated Press, Bloomberg, First Look Media Works, Gannett, the National Press Club Journalism Institute, NBC News, The New York Times, Politico, Press Freedom Defense Fund, EW Scripps Company, USA Today and The Washington Post.
“Whether the news of the day concerns national security, the economy, or the environment, reporters covering the White House must remain free to ask questions,” the media groups said in a joint statement ahead of the hearing.
“It is imperative that independent journalists have access to the president and his activities, and that journalists are not barred for arbitrary reasons.”
The White House said in its legal filing it has “broad discretion” to restrict media access to the president, disputing the argument that its actions violate the constitution.
“The President and White House possess the same broad discretion to regulate access to the White House for journalists (and other members of the public) that they possess to select which journalists receive interviews, or which journalists they acknowledge at press conferences,” said the brief.
The filing by US Justice Department lawyers argued that “the president could choose never to hold another press briefing again and cancel all press passes, without implicating due process protections.”

The White House brief argued there is no imminent harm to CNN or Acosta because he “remains able to practice his profession and report on the White House” and that CNN “has roughly 50 other employees who retain hard passes and who are more than capable of covering the White House complex on CNN’s behalf.”
Acosta, CNN’s chief White House reporter, had his press pass lifted November 7 after a testy exchange with Trump at a White House news conference.
CNN — part of the WarnerMedia division of AT&T — filed suit on Tuesday.
Trump’s administration initially said Acosta was banned for inappropriately touching a White House female intern as he struggled to hold on to a microphone. The White House cited a video which analysts said had been sped up, giving the appearance that Acosta struck the intern’s arm.
Trump later said other journalists might be barred as well if they were not “respectful.”
Free speech activists have warned the case has important implications, and that public officials should not be able to bar access to journalists if they dislike news coverage.
The White House has dismissed CNN’s complaint as “grandstanding” and vowed to “vigorously defend” against the lawsuit.


Fake news war: In Libya, battles also rage on social media

Updated 18 April 2019
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Fake news war: In Libya, battles also rage on social media

TRIPOLI: On Libya’s front lines, fighters often hold a gun in one hand and a smartphone in the other, using their cameras in the propaganda war.

Since eastern commander Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to seize the capital Tripoli, most Libyans have watched the fighting on social media.

Facebook has become the main online battleground, where both sides weaponize photos and video footage — both real and fake.

Images of wounded, killed or imprisoned fighters are immediately published by one side or the other as they try to prove their supremacy on the battlefield.

When rockets slammed into residential areas in the south of the capital Wednesday, killing six people, both sides, predictably, blamed each other.

While few Libyans trust the TV channels, they now also sift through images, fake news and propaganda online, from both Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) and forces backing the unity government (GNA).

Last week, GNA spokesman Col. Mohamad Gnounou even accused Haftar’s forces of “infiltrating certain places, taking pictures and then withdrawing” so they could claim online to be in control of a particular site or neighborhood.

This week, an American who had become an unlikely celebrity in Libya took to the internet to deny reports by LNA that he had piloted a Libyan fighter plane as a GNA “foreign mercenary pilot.”

In his own short video post on Twitter, he held up a US newspaper to date the clip and assured viewers that “I am currently here in the US ... I am not in Libya.” Warring factions have used fake content to discredit their enemies or hit their morale.

“It is true that we have a huge wave of misinformation spread through social networks,” said Libyan analyst Emad Badi.

“Each party has invested considerably to influence the media to adopt a narrative that is favorable to them.” Last week, three videos circulated — all purportedly shot at the same time, in the same place on the front line, but with completely different messages.

 

 

In two of the films, one side claimed that its rivals had laid down their weapons and surrendered.

A third clip, whose authorship remains a mystery, showed the unlikely scene of fighters halting combat and embracing each other, crying “united Libya.”

One Internet user quipped that “whatever the real version of the facts, a united Libya triumphed for at least a few moments.”

Social media users have sought to fill the vacuum left by mass media, as each Libyan television station has long chosen its side and tends to broadcast videos or photos without verification if they appear to support their stance.

“There’s no point in turning on the TV,” said one young Libyan, Karim, his eyes fixed on his phone, as he sat on the terrace of a seaside cafe in Tripoli.

“Libyan channels are either late or so biased that it’s comical if you’re not on the same side.”

Some Internet users have taken on the role of military experts, pointing to maps and images of specific weapons to support their take on the truth.

Not surprisingly for a country riven by multiple conflicts since the fall of late dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, Libya also has armies of online trolls who spread hatred and incite violence.

“Anonymity on social networks encourages some people to engage in aggressive and hateful speech and even incitement to crime,” said Mayss Abdel-Fattah, 26, a sociology student at the University of Zawiya.

“These ‘bad’ users of social networks feel that no-one will come to hold them accountable, which is very often the case in Libya.”

Despite the toxic posts that flood social networks, there are also rays of light that cut through the online fog of war.

A group of young Libyans in 2016 launched the “SafePath” group which now has 162,000 members on Facebook and provides a crucial public service: It updates users on which roads to avoid because of fighting.