Cameroonian journalist Simon Ateba has taken legal action against the White House in an effort to protect press freedom. Ateba, who serves as a White House correspondent for Today News Africa, filed a lawsuit on Thursday, claiming that the Biden administration unlawfully revoked the press credentials of more than 440 journalists, effectively banning them from reporting on government activities.
The lawsuit, brought forth by the Center for American Liberty, alleges that the White House’s stricter press badge restrictions infringe upon the First Amendment rights of journalists, including Ateba. In May, the White House press office announced that all reporters would be required to reapply for hard-pass access, previously automatically renewed, by the end of July. This new policy targeted freelance journalists, who now had to submit letters from news outlets affirming their affiliation, as well as provide a Washington, D.C., address.
Moreover, the updated restrictions stated that journalists who fail to conduct themselves in a professional manner could have their press credentials revoked. This announcement followed several instances in which Ateba engaged in heated exchanges with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre during daily press briefings. Ateba has accused Jean-Pierre of undermining the principles of the First Amendment and discriminating against journalists employed by smaller news organizations. He claims that Jean-Pierre has refused to address his questions for months, demonstrating a clear bias against him and his colleagues.
By filing this lawsuit, Ateba and the Center for American Liberty seek to challenge the White House’s press restrictions and reaffirm the importance of a free press in democracy. Freedom of the press is a fundamental aspect of the First Amendment, ensuring that journalists can hold the government accountable and provide the public with accurate and timely information.
After months of not receiving answers to his inquiries from the White House press office, Mr. Ateba chose to utilize the only option available to him: speaking up during press briefings. In a lawsuit filed against the White House, Ateba claims that he has been unfairly targeted and had his press credentials revoked due to newly implemented rules.
According to the lawsuit, Ateba asserted himself in the briefing room on several occasions since December 2021, speaking over other reporters and the White House Press Secretary in an attempt to make his concerns known. However, instead of addressing his inquiries, the White House press office ignored his questions and concerns, leaving Ateba frustrated and feeling unheard.
The newly implemented rules by the White House press office have been criticized by the CEO of the Center for American Liberty, Harmeet Dhillon. Dhillon argues that these rules are unconstitutional and directly target Ateba. By outsourcing the credentialing process, the White House is giving a select group of journalists the power to decide which reporters and outlets are worthy of covering the White House. This selective discretion goes against the principles of a free press and holding those in power accountable.
Ateba emphasizes that this lawsuit is not just about him but about maintaining a free press and holding those in power accountable. Regardless of who holds the office, no President should have the authority to decide who covers them. It is a matter of democracy and the right of the people to be informed. Ateba believes that today the rules target him, but tomorrow they might target others. It is a dangerous precedent that needs to be challenged in order to protect the cornerstone of democracy: a free and independent press.