US Press Freedom Tracker launches with donation from ‘body-slamming’ congressman

A coalition of press freedom advocates launched the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker on Wednesday, a first-of-its-kind database that will document affronts to press freedom in the United States.

Managed by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and funded by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the project will collect and compile reports of the attacks, arrests, searches and stops that impede the work of those who inform the American public.

According to former Politico reporter Peter Sterne, who will serve as the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker’s first managing editor, groups that track press freedom in countries without strong press protections have set a high standard for what constitutes a press freedom violation — either the imprisonment or murder of a journalist — that excludes the vast majority of verifiable infringements on press freedom in the United States. Sterne hopes his project can fill that gap, because the erosion of the protections powering the United States’ famously free press could have far-reaching effects.

“The U.S. is often seen as a beacon of press freedom in the world,” Sterne told ABC News. “When freedom of the press in the U.S. is weakened, that has an effect around the world where other countries feel more emboldened to crack down on their own journalists.”

The launch comes at a particularly sensitive time for the American press, when public trust of the media has sunk to all-time lows as attacks on the credibility of major news organizations have been leveled from the highest levels of the U.S. government.

The tracker noted 19 arrests, 12 equipment searches and seizures, 11 physical attacks and four border stops of journalists so far in 2017. That tally includes a pair of high-profile incidents in May — the arrest of journalist Dan Heyman as he questioned a Trump administration official in West Virginia and the assault on Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs by then-GOP Congressional candidate Greg Gianforte in Montana.

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