PEN America sues President Trump over freedom of speech

PEN America sues President Trump over freedom of speech

Writers' group PEN America has filed a lawsuit in federal court in New York against President Trump for alleged violations of America's First Amendment, seeking to "to stop President Trump from using the machinery of government to retaliate or threaten reprisals against journalists and media outlets for coverage he dislikes."

The First Amendment of the US constitution protects freedom of speech.

Novelist Jennifer Egan, current president of PEN America, and the organisation's chief executive officer Suzanne Nossel have revealed the step in an open letter posted on the PEN America website.

The letter addresses Trump's record both towards both press journalism and book publishing, saying: "President Trump’s tirades against the press are not new. His cries of 'fake news' are an almost daily occurrence. The White House has called for individual journalists to be fired, and the president has referred to the media as 'the enemy of the American people.' This has created an environment of hostility toward the media wherein journalists have been subject to death threats, needed bodyguards to cover political rallies, and have faced attacks in their newsrooms. The president has also threatened book publishers and authors who have published critical volumes. "

As a consequence, "individual writers may think twice before publishing pieces or commentary that could put them in the White House’s crosshairs", warn Egan and Nossel.

"Our country’s broad protections for free speech allow the president to denigrate the press and even go after individual journalists by name. However, when President Trump crosses the line and threatens to use his authority to punish the media, or actually does so, it is vital for the courts to step in and affirm that such threats and reprisals are unconstitutional. We have worked closely with leading First Amendment scholars and practitioners in private practice and academia in order to hone a request to the court to do just that."

Four specific alleged First Amendment violations are being cited by PEN America, including the disruption a merger involving CNN parent company Time Warner, and direction the US Postal Service to explore raising postal rates for Amazon because its founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, perceived by Trump as critical of his presidency.  

The letter concludes: "Given our mission to defend free expression and support those who pay a price for its exercise, we are determined to rise in defense of the press freedom protections that are so fundamental to our society and democracy. With media organizations focused on their essential role of providing probing, objective coverage, PEN America is uniquely positioned in standing up to these encroachments on the work of those who cover and comment on the work of our government."

The lawsuit has been filed in conjunction with nonpartisan nonprofit organisation Protect Democracy and the Yale Law School Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic. Trump has yet to respond to the suit.

Trump's lawyers attempted to prevent publication of Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury, and also made legal threats to Simon & Schuster over Omarosa Manigault Newman's memoir Unhinged. Macmillan c.e.o. John Sargent told the Frankfurt Book Fair last week that publishers must defend democracy.