Reporter Simon Ateba sues White House in fight for press freedom after 440 journalists stripped of hard-pass credentials

News & Politics

White House correspondent for Today News Africa Simon Ateba filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration on Thursday in a fight for press freedom after hundreds of reporters were stripped of their hard-pass press credentials.

The lawsuit, filed by the Center for American Liberty, accused the White House of “effectively banning Ateba and more than 440 other reporters.”

In May, the White House press office announced it would implement stricter press badge restrictions, forcing journalists to reapply for hard-pass access by the end of July. Previously, press badges had been automatically renewed.

In order to qualify to obtain a hard pass under the White House’s new restrictions, reporters were required to prove their “full-time employment with an organization whose principal business is news dissemination.” Freelance journalists had to submit letters from news outlets describing their affiliation. Other requirements included providing a professional or personal Washington, D.C., address.

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The updated restrictions also noted that reporters who fail to “act in a professional manner” may be stripped of their press credentials.

The new rules were announced following several occasions when press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre sparred with Ateba during the daily press briefings.

Ateba previously accused Jean-Pierre of “making a mockery of the First Amendment” and discriminating against reporters at smaller news outlets. According to Ateba, the press secretary had not taken questions from him in months.

“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,” the lawsuit stated. “On several occasions since December 2021, Mr. Ateba asserted himself in the briefing room, speaking over other reporters and the White House Press Secretary in an attempt to make his concerns known.”

Ateba lost his hard-pass credentials following the White House press office’s newly implemented rules.

The CEO of the Center for American Liberty, Harmeet Dhillon, stated, “The White House’s new press credential requirements are unconstitutional and directly target Simon.”

“By outsourcing the credentialing process, the White House is giving a group of elite-minded journalists unbridled discretion to pick and choose which reporters and outlets are worthy of holding the White House accountable. We urge the Court to uphold the First Amendment and declare these new requirements unconstitutional so Simon can continue to do his job,” Dhillon added.

Ateba noted that the lawsuit “isn’t just about me” but about “maintaining a free press and holding those in power accountable.”

“Today, President Joe Biden is in power. Tomorrow, it might be someone else. Regardless of who holds the office, no President should have the authority to decide who covers them. Today, the arbitrary new rules target me; tomorrow, they might target you. This isn’t about just one individual; it’s about a free press, the cornerstone of democracy. In a democracy, people have a right to know, and journalists have a duty to tell,” Ateba said.

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