Obama Hailed ‘World Press Freedom Day’ As His DOJ Was Seizing AP Phone Records

Fred Lucas | May 14, 2013 | 9:57am EDT
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President Barack Obama concludes his remarks at a celebration of Cinco de Mayo in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday, May 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama issued a statement heralding World Press Freedom Day in May 2012, at the same time his Department of Justice was secretly obtaining phone records from Associated Press reporters and editors.

“On this World Press Freedom Day, the United States honors the role of a free press in creating sustainable democracies and prosperous societies,” Obama said in a statement on May 3, 2012.  “We pay special tribute to those journalists who have sacrificed their lives, freedom or personal well-being in pursuit of truth and justice.”

The AP disclosed on Monday that the Justice Department obtained telephone records of 20 separate lines, including all outgoing calls and personal phone numbers, in April and May of 2012. The AP is the world’s largest wire service serving newspapers, websites and broadcast media.

“We call on all governments to protect the ability of journalists, bloggers, and dissidents to write and speak freely without retribution and to stop the use of travel bans and other indirect forms of censorship to suppress the exercise of these universal rights,” Obama said in the May 3, 2012 statement.

Obama issued a similar statement for World Press Freedom Day in 2011, 2010 and 2009, but not for 2013.

Obama did not issue a written statement this year, but referenced it while in Costa Rica on May 3.

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“I’m proud to be here as you host World Press Freedom Day,” Obama said on May 3, 2013 at a joint press conference with Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla. “So everybody from the American press corps, you should thank the people of Costa Rica for celebrating free speech and an independent press as essential pillars of our democracy.”

World Press Freedom Day is an event sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“In some cases, it is not just governments threatening the freedom of the press,” the president said in last year’s statement. “It is also criminal gangs, terrorists, or political factions. No matter the cause, when journalists are intimidated, attacked, imprisoned, or disappeared, individuals begin to self-censor, fear replaces truth, and all of our societies suffer. A culture of impunity for such actions must not be allowed to persist in any country.”

Outrage at the DOJ information-trolling is coming from both conservatives and many liberals, including the American Civil Liberties Union.

"The media's purpose is to keep the public informed and it should be free to do so without the threat of unwarranted surveillance," said Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office. "The Attorney General must explain the Justice Department's actions to the public so that we can make sure this kind of press intimidation does not happen again."

White House spokesman Jay Carney on Monday issued a statement saying, "Other than press reports, we have no knowledge of any attempt by the Justice Department to seek phone records of the AP." He directed further questions to the Justice Department.

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