Reporter who broke rules to stream White House press briefing drew on experiences growing up under dictatorship

'I watched colleagues lose their lives fighting for the freedom of the press'

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Thursday 27 July 2017 13:57 EDT
Ksenija Pavlovic founded her own website and campaigns for press freedom
Ksenija Pavlovic founded her own website and campaigns for press freedom

Ksenija Pavlovic, a journalist and academic who founded her own website, made headlines when she used the Periscope app to stream audio of a briefing by Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She did so after the White House banned cameras, and then even said no to live audio.

Ms Pavlovic, the editor-in-chief and White House correspondent of The Pavlovic Today, said she was inspired to act as a result of her experiences in the former Yugoslavia, a dictatorship which broke up in the early 1990s.

Ms Sanders has been taking the most recent briefings

“Growing up in a dictatorship, I was part of the generation who stood up against Slobodan Milosevic,” she said, referring to the late Serbian leader.

“During the 90s, the revolution against his oppressive regime was our new found place of freedom. We believed we were a fearless generation who stood up against police cordons as the last bastion of defence of our own ideals for free speech and the right to live in a democracy.”

She added: “As a young journalist, I watched older, seasoned colleagues lose their lives fighting for the freedom of the press. Given my experiences, I know the value of free speech.

“Freedom, as enshrined in the First Amendment, should never be taken for granted. America should be a beacon for the whole world. America should be giving hope to all those around the world who do not even have basic human rights or freedoms including the free use of the internet.”

Slobodan Milosevic addresses the media in Paris in March 1993

While a number of journalists had complained about the decision by the Trump administration to ban cameras - on one occasion CNN dispatched a sketch artist usually retained for court cases - none of them sought to actively break or subvert the restriction.

A number of people on social media asked why more celebrated and famous correspondents did not simply turn on their cameras as officials were speaking. Ms Pavlovic, a former political science teaching fellow at Yale, said she believed “big legacy media has many stakeholders to account to before taking a decision to make a public stand”.

In contrast, she told The Independent in a written Q&A, “a new start up like The Pavlovic Today is able to take such decisions. Audio streaming is important and I do not see any harm in it as the briefing was “on the record”.”

Against the backdrop of Mr Trump’s repeated attacks on the media and his accusations of “fake news”, Ms Pavlovic said the response had been overwhelmingly positive and she had received an “outpouring support from the American people as well as from the fellow journalists all around the world”. She said it had helped trigger an important discussion: what it means to be a journalist today? What are the roles and responsibilities of the media? What are the values we stand for?

Sarah Huckabee Sanders slams press at White House briefing

“The public response is a good indicator as to how the Americans want to be informed,” she added. “They want to be included in the conversation and they want to hear directly from the White House during the daily on the record briefings. I believe that the American people are sending an important message here - they demand transparency and that is the message we all have to pay attention to.”

She said the relationship between the media and the Trump administration was difficult. She said those who were suffering the most were members of the public.

“The primary aim of the daily briefings is not to have a meeting between the journalists and the White House, but to serve the American public and the society at large,” she said.

Since Ms Pavlovic’s actions, Mr Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer, has resigned and the President has appointed as his director of communications, Anthony Scaramucci, a Wall Street financier with penchant for tailored suits and hair gel.

One of Mr Scaramucci’s first actions was to reintroduce the cameras to the briefings, something that will be notched up as a victory for Ms Pavlovic and the other journalists who complained.

“Time will tell if Scaramucci’s appointment is the right decision,” she said. “But cameras being on for the press briefings is good for democracy and good for the White House.”

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