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The Associated Press president Gary Pruitt said Sunday on CBS “Face the Nation” that the way the Justice Department seized its phone records in 2012 was “unconstitutional” and they are already noticing consequences like people now “a little reluctant” to give them information for fear to be monitored by the government.

This is a pretty serious situation for press freedom created by the Department of Justice deciding to listening to 21 AP phone lines without notifying the press organization in advance, like would be required, but doing so a year after. Anyway, for a Government, listening to the phone records of a press organization doesn’t look good. It looks like a way to control the press freedom and this in a free country is a big sin. If Mr. Pruitt says is unconstitutional, he has his reasons.

It is worth to investigate now if this is true and ask for responsibilities, because if not the credibility of the administration in its relations with the press will be damaged beyond repair.Right now every News Media that has a very important news related to the national security, no matter how responsible is conducting it, can suspect the government is listening secretly to its records if this question of the Justice Department action in the AP case is not solved. Obama wanted to take distance from this scandal saying through his Press Secretary the White House didn’t know about the listening to the phone records of AP, and saying he will push for a press shield law.

Pruitt didn’t question the right of the administration to investigate who may have leaked information contained in a story about a foiled terror plot in Yemen against a plain to mark the anniversary of the Osama bin Laden killing. A story only the AP had, he explained and a story they held for five days for national security reasons until they knew from different officials there were no longer the security reasons to hold the news. “It was the methodology – “so sweeping, so secretively, so abusively and harassingly overbroad,” he said, that breached the Constitution.

He explained that the Justice Department “issued a secret subpoena for the phone toll records for 21 AP phone lines and these were phones lines for reporters, direct lines, cell phones, home phones but also the office numbers.” “So over one hundred, approximately a hundred journalists used these telephone lines as part of newsgathering and over the course of the two months of the records that they swept up, thousands upon thousands of newsgathering calls were made.”

“Their rules require them to come to us first but in this case they didn’t, claiming an exception, saying that if they had it would have posed a substantial threat to their investigation. But they have not explained why it would and we can’t understand why it would,” Mr. Pruitt said.

Associated Press didn’t know about the phone records until last week. They are already noticing the consequences.

Since then, ” officials that would normally talk to us, and people we talk to in the normal course of newsgathering, are already saying they’re a little reluctant to talk to us; they fear that they will be monitored by the government”, he said.

“The government has no business having control over all, monitoring all of this newsgathering information from the Associated Press”. “And if they restrict that apparatus, you’re right – the people of the United States will only know what the government wants them to know and that’s not what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment,” he said to the CBS.

About Olga Brajnović

Journalist. In my fifties. I've worked for 26 years in a newspaper in Spain. I worked for two years as a stringer and correspondent in the US, and went as a special envoy to other places like the Balkans. Sea lover. Avid reader. Classic Music enthusiast.