The Radio Television Digital News’ First Amendment Defender Award recognizes individuals and organizations for taking a public stand in support of press freedom and for making a point to champion press freedom and the First Amendment in their lives and careers

WASHINGTON – Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN) was honored this week with the Radio Television Digital News’ First Amendment Defender Award – an award presented to an individual or organization for taking a public stand in support of press freedom and for making a point to champion press freedom and the First Amendment in their lives and careers. In her remarks, Klobuchar expressed her commitment to freedom of press and the First Amendment to ensure that our democracy endures.

“It was Thomas Jefferson who wrote that the first objective of our democracy should be to leave open all avenues to the truth and the most effective way of doing this is through freedom of the press. And while it’s true as I mentioned that the most extreme forms of anti-press behavior have been happening in places like Egypt or Iran or the Philippines, we have our own issues here at home with an administration that has suggested using the antitrust laws as a club. A president who literally tweets whatever he wants every morning, and as someone noted doesn’t seem to respect the amendment that allows him to do it,” Klobuchar said in her remarks.

“Earlier this year I asked administration officials, including the now attorney general, if they would commit to protect journalists from being jailed for doing their job. They still have not made that commitment. I believe that is unacceptable. We must ensure that the Department of Justice continues to follow the guidelines that protect journalists—even when those journalists criticize the government, even when those journalists criticize a candidate. America deserves nothing less. If we want to continue to be a beacon of democracy, we need a free press that has access to our government, so that we the people can truly ensure transparency,” Klobuchar continued.

“Without honest and trusted journalists reporting from the scene, what is out of sight truly becomes out of mind. You have seen that breaking down in local areas—there’s just no coverage of what’s happening in local areas.

“A little over month ago I was asked to speak at a memorial event at the Capitol honoring Jamal Khashoggi, who as you know was murdered simply doing his job. His daughters Noha and Razan said it best at another, earlier service when they asked our country not to mourn but rather to preserve his legacy. This is what they said, ‘This is no eulogy. For that would confirm a state of closure, rather this is a promise that his life will never fade. That his legacy will be preserved within us.’ So I accept this award today not only because my dad would be really mad if I didn’t accept it, but also because I take those beautiful words as a guide that in these challenging times it is up to all of us—you doing your job, us doing our job—to carry on that light and ensure that our democracy endures.”

Klobuchar has consistently defended freedom of the press. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Department of Justice, Klobuchar has pressed Attorneys General William Barr and Jeff Sessions to uphold the rights of journalists.

In a 2018 speech on the Senate Floor, Klobuchar called on the Department of Justice to follow guidelines to protect journalists even if those journalists criticize the government.

In 2013, Klobuchar led legislation with a bipartisan group of senators to help ensure a balance between the public’s interest in newsgathering and the ability of law enforcement to protect national security and public safety. The legislation would also prevent future Administrations from rolling back new Department of Justice media guidelines that provide additional protections to journalists.

Just this week, Klobuchar and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) reintroduced the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act, which grants the presiding judge in all federal courts, including the Supreme Court, the discretion to allow cameras in the courtroom while protecting the identities of witnesses and jurors when necessary or upon request. It also prohibits media coverage of private conversations between clients and counsel, between opposing attorneys, and between counsel and the presiding judge. The bill contains a three-year sunset provision, requiring Congress to evaluate how media access is impacting the judiciary.

All 50 states currently allow some form of audio/video coverage of court proceedings under a variety of rules and conditions, but federal court rules vary by district. Many federal courts, including the Supreme Court, prohibit the use of live media coverage.  Public scrutiny of federal court proceedings will produce greater accountability and transparency of the judiciary system.

Along with Klobuchar and Grassley, the bill is cosponsored by senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Richard Blumenthal, (D-CT) and Ed Markey (D-MA).

Text of the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act is available HERE.

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