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RSF concerned by White House's new press rules

President Donald Trump points at reporters who raise their hands to ask questions during a press conference in the White House in Washington, D.C., 7 November 2018
President Donald Trump points at reporters who raise their hands to ask questions during a press conference in the White House in Washington, D.C., 7 November 2018

Calla Kessler/The Washington Post via Getty Images

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 20 November 2018.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is concerned by the new set of rules put in place for the press during White House news conferences, as outlined by the Trump administration on November 19 when it announced CNN reporter Jim Acosta's press pass would be fully restored.

The Trump administration announced on November 19 it would fully reinstate CNN reporter Jim Acosta's press pass, and in doing so outlined a new set of rules governing press conduct for White House news conferences that, if not followed, may result in future revocation of the reporter's press pass. According to the new rules, reporters may ask "a single question" at a news conference, with follow-up questions - a long-held practice for White house reporters - only permitted "at the discretion" of President Donald Trump or another White House official. The rules also say reporters must "physically surrender" the microphone when told to do so.

"The White House's new press conference rules appear to turn practices long understood as fundamental to the way reporters conduct their activities during official briefings into indecorous and punishable behavior," said Margaux Ewen, Director of RSF's North America bureau. "It is even more concerning that the administration did not even involve the White House Correspondents Association in crafting them. While we welcome the decision to fully restore Mr. Acosta's press pass, we remain concerned that the new stipulations could lead to more arbitrary revocations of journalists' credentials."

While there have been a few cases under previous administrations in which reporters lost access to the White House for security reasons, as outlined in a 2010 Foreign Policy article, it is "unheard of" for a reporter to lose their press pass as a consequence of their behavior in a news conference. The White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) had "no role" in creating these rules. In a statement WHCA President Olivier Knox wrote: "For as long as there have been White House press conferences, White House reporters have asked follow-up questions. We fully expect this tradition will continue."

Following the restoration of Acosta's press pass, CNN subsequently dropped its lawsuit against the White House. "We look forward to continuing to cover the White House," the network wrote in a statement.

The United States ranks 45th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index after falling 2 places in the last year.

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