Why does the US fear international media?

What kind of country would you have to be, to restrict the entry of foreign journalists? In the company of countries like Cuba, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe, the US does.

Most US citizens aren’t aware of this, but foreigners entering the country on a visa or as part of the visa waiver program have to sign a declaration before entry that they are not “bad people”. The definition of “bad people” has changed over time: at one point you had to declare that you’d never been a member of a communist party (I remember answering this question myself when I first came to the US as a tourist). In more recent versions, the I-94W visa waiver form asks whether you are a “drug abuser or addict”, if you have “ever been arrested or convicted for an offense or crime involving moral turpitude” or if you have been involved “in persecutions associated with Nazi Germany or its allies”. As you might guess, you want to be answering “no” to these questions.

But it seems at some point, the small print also mentions that “you may not … represent the foreign information media during your visit under this program”. I never noticed that myself, and I can’t find out when this caveat was added to the form. But the fact remains it was only enforced since 9/11. Since then, journalists from the UK, Australia, and many other countries have been denied entry to the US on this basis. Click the links for their horrifying stories, and Slate has a good discussion of these and other instances. Their reports of their treatment at the hands of immigration officials universally describe a horrendous experience. Reporters sans frontières describes the stories of 20 foreign journalists who have been deported on arrival and “treated like criminals, interrogated, searched, detained, photographed, fingerprinted and taken to planes in handcuffs”. Some foreign journalists already in the US have even been ordered to leave.

Now, the US is tightening restrictions on journalists once again. As reported in the Guardian, journalists who once were able to renew visas within the US are now compelled to leave the country before they are able to do so. Processing of such visas at consular offices can take between four weeks and six months. The result: significantly fewer foreign journalists reporting on the November election.

2 thoughts on “Why does the US fear international media?”

  1. My friend C. was supposed to come to the US in the Spring. He was going to attend some tech conference in Florida, I’ve forgotten which one. His trip got cancelled? Why? He had to get some stupid “journalism” visa. This is a guy who writes for dry technology columns and the occaissional farm report. He ended up going to France instead (ah HA! the FRENCH again!) and staying in a rather swank hotel on the Riviera. Good for him, I’m sure. Not so good for anyone hoping to get their flash new technology written up in the European press. Oh, this policy makes total sense.

    Note to potential journalists: Just come in as a TOURIST.

    Sidebar: we can’t stop ourselves from cracking up over the green form they give you on the plane. I always think it’s an intelligence or literacy test. I mean, what kind of person checks YES to “I am entering the US for the purpose of engaging in terrorist acts.”

Comments are closed.