Ateba v. Jean-Pierre
Washington, D.C. – The Dhillon Law Group, in conjunction with the Center for American Liberty, filed a lawsuit Thursday, challenging the White House Press Office’s revised requirements to obtain hard-pass press credentials. The plaintiff in the case, Simon Ateba, is the White House correspondent for Today News Africa.
“The White House’s new press credential requirements are unconstitutional and directly target Simon,” said Harmeet Dhillon, the CEO of the Center for American Liberty. “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.”
In his five-year tenure covering American politics and U.S./African relations, Ateba alleges consistent obstruction by the White House Press Office. Despite his attempts to engage, he’s faced contempt and barriers from the White House that hinder his reporting.
“As the esteemed Walter Cronkite once stated, ‘Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy’. Thus, silencing the press is akin to muffling the voice of freedom. This isn’t just about me; it’s about maintaining a free press and holding those in power accountable—regardless of whether they like us, agree with our questions, or even read our publications,” Ateba said.
The White House altered its “hard pass” criteria, effectively banning Ateba and more than 440 other reporters. This drastic move targeted Ateba’s unique inquiries, often outside mainstream coverage.
“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.
The revised criteria arbitrarily require press credentials from the Supreme Court or the Congressional Press Galleries, making access for smaller journalistic endeavors arduous, if not impossible. Ateba’s lawsuit underscores the White House’s breach of journalists’ constitutional rights to access information and inform the public.
Ateba’s lawsuit aims to declare the revised White House credentialing requirements unconstitutional under the First Amendment, preventing their enforcement. He also questions the U.S. Secret Service’s abrupt termination of his hard pass, and demands a preliminary injunction to prevent future terminations without a valid explanation.
Seeking fair access to justice, Ateba also demands reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees. Through this legal battle, he strives not only to safeguard his own rights but to set a precedent that reinforces the essential principles of a free and unobstructed press.