In a move that has alarmed free press advocates, the White House announced on Friday that journalists with press badges will have to reapply for new ones by July 31. This decision has raised concerns about the First Amendment rights of journalists, as it is widely believed to be in response to Simon Ateba, a reporter for Today News Africa who has sparred multiple times with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
Ateba had a heated exchange with Karine Jean-Pierre, White House Press Secretary, in March. The exchange highlighted Pierre’s alleged bias against Ateba, who claimed he had not been called on for questions in seven months. Ateba maintains that the new rules are designed to oust him from the press room.
The new requirements for press badges include obtaining accreditation from the press galleries in the Supreme Court, Senate, or House of Representatives. The process can take between six months to a year for new applicants, potentially sidelining Ateba for a significant amount of time, he told Stella Escobedo, OAN news anchor during an interview on Monday.
Ateba expressed his disappointment with the Biden administration’s treatment of Today News Africa, which focuses on strengthening ties and interaction between the US and Africa. Ateba has an extensive journalism background, with two degrees in the field and experience covering various dangerous assignments, including being arrested in Cameroon and accused of spying for Boko Haram.
The White House notice stated that journalists who fail to act professionally could have their press badges revoked, raising questions about what constitutes professionalism in the press room. Ateba insists that he has always been professional and that Pierre, who has no journalism training, has been disrespectful to him.
Critics argue that these new rules put the First Amendment in danger, as they could be used by future administrations to make it more difficult for journalists to acquire hard passes and remove them for doing their jobs. The focus should be on asking tough questions and conducting real investigations, rather than maintaining friendly relations with those in power.
Ironically, while the White House is cracking down on reporters, there are talks of adding a briefing room for influencers. This has prompted further concerns about the state of journalism and the protection of freedom of the press in the United States.
In the face of these new restrictions, Ateba remains determined to continue his work, albeit with the knowledge that it may be more challenging. He hopes to bring attention to the plight of freedom of the press in the US, particularly as it relates to his efforts to strengthen ties between the US and Africa at a time when China and Russia are expanding their influence across the continent.