PEN America filed a lawsuit against US President Donald Trump on Tuesday in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York alleging several violations of the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of the press.
The plaintiffs allege retaliatory actions for unfavorable news reporting, including, “initiating a government review to raise postal rates; directing Department of Justice enforcement actions; threatening to revoke broadcast licenses; and interfering with White House press access.”
The review of postal rates was allegedly in retaliation for Washington Post news coverage. The Washington Post is owned by Jeff Bezos, who also owns Amazon. Trump has often criticized the Washington Post, tweeting that it was “nothing more than an expensive (the paper loses a fortune) lobbyist for Amazon.” Trump signed a executive order for the Postal Service to review its package pricing. On October 11, 2018, the Postal Service increased the price of the package delivery service used by Amazon by 12 percent.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) enforcement actions are allegedly in retaliation against CNN. CNN, owned by Time Warner, is another news agency that Trump has often criticized. The proposed merger of Time Warner and AT&T was challenged by the DOJ on antitrust grounds. The lawsuit alleges that the merger was considered a vertical merger, a type of merger that the government has not challenged in decades.
The threat to revoke broadcast licenses occurred in a series of tweets on October 11, 2017, after NBC posted a story regarding statements Trump was alleged to have said regarding nuclear weapons. Trump tweeted “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License?” He also tweeted “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked.”
Interference with press access is alleged to have occurred on several occasions. This includes banning reporters from specific news agencies from rallies, news conferences, and official events. CNN Reporter Kaitlan Collins was also prevented from attending the Rose Garden press conference after asking an “inappropriate” question.
Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights >Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called Trump’s attacks on the press “very close to incitement of violence” in August. The statement came almost a year after the Commissioner also called the criticisms of the press an attack on the freedom of press.