Ateba, who is the White House correspondent for Today News Africa, filed the complaint on Thursday with the Liberty Center claiming alleged violations of the first and fifth amendments of the United States Constitution. The journalist had his "hard pass" revoked by the White House in May, which banned him from attending official White House press briefings.
The White House Press Office had implemented a new set of rules in 2021 which loosened requirements for reporters to obtain "hard passes." This granted journalists from smaller independent news outlets, like Ateba, the ability to attend daily press briefings. However, the White House revoked all hard passes in May under the guise of "protecting security and ensuring decorum," and issued a new set of stringent requirements, according to Liberty Center.
This banned Ateba from having access to the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, and the journalist claims that the White House issued these new requirements to specifically exclude him over his history of asking Jean-Pierre tough questions during press briefs. In other words, Ateba believes he has been explicitly targeted and discriminated against by the Biden administration.
According to the complaint, "Defendants violated Mr. Ateba's First Amendment rights by changing the criteria for hard pass credentials to intentionally prevent Mr. Ateba from obtaining hard pass access."
"Defendants did so by adopting credentialing criteria specifically designed to exclude Mr. Ateba from eligibility. Such discrimination amounts to a content-based regulation and viewpoint discrimination against Mr. Ateba in violation of the First Amendment," it continues.
The Liberty Center argues that the new requirements are designed to act as a gatekeeping function for "elitist" DC journalists that have not been critical of the Biden administration.
"It is clear that the White House changed its credentialing requirements specifically to exclude Simon, in direct violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of the press, the law group said.
The new criteria requires each reporter to have press credentials from either the Supreme Court or one of the four Congressional Press Galleries.
The Liberty Center argues: "The Supreme Court only issues press credentials to reporters who cover the Supreme Court full time. In other words, no White House reporter could ever qualify for these credentials, making this requirement entirely meaningless."
"Contrary to what the name implies, the Congressional Press Galleries aren’t government-run, objective credentialing institutions. They’re made up entirely of DC insider journalists from elitist media outlets. And the one criterion they use for issuing credentials to other journalists is that the applying journalist be "reputable," they explained. "The definition of 'reputable' is left entirely up to this group of reporters who are knee deep in the Swamp and openly hostile to reporters like Simon who don't adhere to their DC elitest standards."
Ateba has been the White House correspondent for the past five years, and his prominent exchanges with Jean-Pierre during briefings had garnered both international media attention, as well as provoking the anger of the Biden administration, according to the complaint.
Ateba began speaking up during press briefings after he had noticed a pattern in which the journalist alleges that the press secretary had been repeatedly ignoring his questions.
"He raised his hand in briefings, he submitted written requests for information and comment—but he was shut out from any real access to the White House's happenings," the law group said. In an act of frustration, they added that "Simon began to speak up during the briefings to make his voice impossible to ignore."
The journalist has been at the forefront of several chaotic incidents during official press briefings.
In March, Ateba was highly critical of the press secretary during a press brief when the White House was hosting the celebrity cast of "Ted Lasso." The journalist had spoken up about allegedly being ignored by the Biden administration for seven consecutive months, and demanded for his questions to be answered.
"This is not China. This is not Russia. What you are doing, you’re making a mockery of the First Amendment," Ateba said at the time, according to Fox News.
The journalist said that he has not been able to obtain another hard pass since his pass expired on July 31. Reporters are required to contact the White House to obtain a day pass for each specific date. There are 975 reporters that currently have hard passed, but Ateba is not one of them.
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