ACLU "Troubled" by White House Request for Network Censorship of Bin Laden Videotapes
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK--The American Civil Liberties Union said today that it was troubled by a White House request that broadcast news media outlets edit or decline to show any future videotaped statements from Osama bin Laden or his followers.
"The ACLU is troubled by the Bush Administration's request and the agreement by the networks to withhold information from the American public that is freely available to the rest of the world," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero.
The request is not unconstitutional, Romero said, since it was apparently not couched as a demand. But he added that the government should not be encouraging censorship as we engage in a battle to preserve our freedoms.
According to news reports, the five major news organizations, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News (along with its subsidiary, MSNBC), the Cable News Network and the Fox News Channel all agreed to the White House request.
Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said at a news briefing yesterday that government officials were primarily concerned that terrorists could be using the broadcasts to send coded messages to other terrorists. But according to published reporters, the Administration presented no evidence of such coding, and in any case, the ACLU said, the tapes have been broadcast worldwide and are available online.
"This is not a question of the release of classified information," Romero said. "The way to protect the American people is not to keep them in ignorance of threats we may be facing or information we may need. This is a time when the need to be fully informed is more important than ever."
"We must not allow the First Amendment -- the underpinning of our democracy -- to become a casualty during times of national crisis."