Holder on the record with NAHJ

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) met with Attorney General Eric Holder and his team on Monday. It was a constructive meeting addressing NAHJ’s concerns about the Department of Justice (DOJ) guidelines governing investigations involving journalists.

Although originally billed as “off the record,” Mr. Holder quickly agreed to have the meeting on the record.

Mr. Holder was surprisingly candid and regretted some of the actions his department made in pursuing leakers. He admitted that outdated policies must change in order to not give any impression that journalists are the targets of investigations. However well-intended, the DOJ’s attempt to protect national security trampled over freedom of the press.

It was positive to hear the attorney general and his team talk about being more inclusive with media organizations moving forward, but they shouldn’t get a free “pass.” The fact remains that unprecedented measures were used in seizing the Associated Press (AP) phone records and in a separate case, Fox News reporter James Rosen was described as a potential co-conspirator.

Journalists should not be labeled as criminals for doing their constitutionally protected service to the community. The trust between a reporter and an anonymous source who fears reprisals should not be broken by the questionable seizure of private records.

The attorney general assured that his team explored all means available in gathering information for its investigation before taking the extreme action of obtaining a subpoena. He lamented the outcome and promised to seek changes that would include bettering the notice given to media during such probes.

While the hour long meeting did not produce a meaningful list of concrete changes that will secure the rights of journalists, it is a first step in the right direction.

NAHJ stressed the importance of transparency and inclusiveness in the DOJ’s investigations. We applaud further discussions with Mr. Holder and that they include journalists of color. NAHJ suggested that the information from the DOJ also be distributed in Spanish. And we invited the attorney general to speak at the Excellence In Journalism national conference.

NAHJ accepted his proposal for members to submit ideas on policy changes. I hope many of you take advantage of this opportunity. We will provide more details later this week.

Criticizing is easy. Finding solutions is hard. NAHJ will always be willing to meet with others and discuss ideas that may result in positive change for journalists and journalism.

I want to thank NAHJ executive director Anna Lopez Buck and UNITY Journalists for Diversity interim executive director Walt Swanson for being present at the meeting.

Hugo Balta
NAHJ President

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