The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to compile a database of “journalists, bloggers, and media influencers,” in a move that has some observers concerned about infringement on the right to a free press, Huffington Post is reporting.
Had it not been for someone noticing a job posting on the DHS’s website, the move might not have even been noticed. The posting was brought to the attention of Bloomberg, which initially broke the story.
The job, under the heading “Media Monitoring Services,” calls for a contractor to create “a searchable database that has the ability to track about 290,000 news sources, both foreign and domestic.”
“[DHS will monitor] traditional news sources as well as social media, identify any and all media coverage related to the Department of Homeland Security or a particular event… Services shall provide media comparison tools, design and rebranding tools, communication tools, and the ability to identify top media influencers.”
The database should have the capability of instantly translating any content into (or from) Chinese, Russian, or English, and should monitor content’s “momentum” and “sentiment.”
What the DHS intends to do with this information remains unclear.
However, the move is not going over well with observers, who claim that it’s simply another Trump administration attack on the free press.
— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) April 7, 2018
Writing in Forbes, Michelle Fabio makes it clear what she believes this move is really about.
“Unfortunately, increasing government encroachment on the freedom of the press is the sinister backdrop to all of this.”
To support this, Fabio noted that last October, Indiana lawmaker Jim Lucas proposed a bill that would require that journalists be licensed. Further, Huffington Post writer Carla Herreria stated that Donald Trump has been unequivocal in his feelings about the media, even at one time calling “the fake news media” “the enemy of the people.” Similarly, according to an August 2017 Huffington Post report, the Trump administration has attacked journalists on social media and has even blacklisted others.
I’ve gotten threats of violence & death from Trump supporters. Am I to be put on the Department of Homeland Security’s list now, too, for having the audacity to criticize @realDonaldTrump in the media and my published work?https://t.co/lpo19Zeac7#resist #trump #FridayFeeling
— Dr. DaShanne Stokes (@DaShanneStokes) April 6, 2018
Meanwhile, the United States, once a bastion of the free press thanks to rigorous First Amendment protections on free speech, has started showing signs of becoming not-so-free. Freedom House, which ranks every country’s freedom of the press, noted that things had taken a turn for the worse since Trump. On a scale from Zero to 100, where Zero is the “most free” and 100 is the “least free,” the U.S. scores 23, down 2 points since before Trump.
“A number of journalists were targeted for arrest while covering protests, including several who faced serious charges in connection with demonstrations against oil pipelines, though in most cases the charges were eventually dropped.”
Similarly, Reporters Without Borders, which maintains a ranking of where each country ranks in terms of freedom of the press, puts the U.S. at 43rd out of 180, behind Belize and Burkina Faso.
“US press freedom, enshrined in the First Amendment to the 1787 constitution, has encountered several major obstacles over the past few years, most recently with the election of President Donald Trump.”
DHS press secretary Tyler Houlton, however, claimed that the move to create a database of journalists is a mundane and common practice and that anyone who claims otherwise belongs in the company of “tin foil hat wearing, black helicopter conspiracy theorists.”