White House correspondent Ksenija Pavlovic defied press restrictions by live streaming a press briefing on July 19. Reporting from the White House for her own news site, Pavlovic Today, she used the Periscope app to stream the audio from the briefing and shared a link to the feed on her Twitter account.
The White House had banned live audio and video coverage of press briefings on June 29.
Her “rebel act” made international news headlines and stressed the need for more transparency in what Pavlovic, a former political science teaching fellow at Yale, calls the “House of People”.
In an exclusive interview with New Europe, Pavlovic spoke about press freedom and other White House issues, including the recent resignation of spokesperson Sean Spicer.
New Europe: Were you expecting Sean Spicer’s resignation? Had you noticed any tension between him and other White House staff members?
Ksenija Pavlovic: Sean Spicer’s resignation did not come as a surprise. He publicly said he disagreed with the decision of the President to appoint Anthony Scaramucci [the new White House director of communications] and for that reason, he decided to leave.
Do you think Sean Spicer made the right decision to resign?
Sean Spicer: It was up to him to make the decision. In a situation where there are two competing visions, he decided to leave. Spicer has a reputation in the RNC of the “loyal soldier” and his act of resignation should not be taken as an act of disloyalty to the President, but his personal assessment that he could not serve anymore to the best of his abilities. He wanted to exit on his own terms, which he did.
How would describe your relationship with the White House press office and the press secretary?
Ksenija Pavlovic: My relationship with the new Press Secretary Sarah H. Sanders is respectful and professional. As the member of the White House Press Corps, my role is to be objective, critical and fair. I am an independent thinker and journalist and I root my analysis in facts and knowledge of political science.
I believe that the WH Press Office understands that, and I am hoping that they value to have me in the press corps with an independent outlet that is nonpartisan and does not have any political affiliation.
The Pavlovic Today is not beholden to any corporate special interests, nor is it a part of any media network with a political agenda. Voices of The Pavlovic Today are experts and they are writing from the standpoint of the arguments and without censorship. I have also given voice to Millennials all around the world to write for the Naked Opinion section of my publication. Youth are not only the keepers of tomorrow, but active agents of change today.
Why did you decide to “break” the White House protocol and live stream the press briefing?
Ksenija Pavlovic: I believe in the open society and the liberty principles postulated by John Stuart Mill. 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.
Growing up in a dictatorship, I was part of the generation who stood up against Slobodan Milosevic. During the 1990s, the revolution against his oppressive regime was our newfound 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.
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. To them, America should offer the hope for a more progressive tomorrow.
The White House is the People’s House. The Founding Fathers put the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights for a good reason. If the White House briefings are not open and transparent, what is to stop other regimes around the world doing the same? America should always be the beacon of democracy.
Do you think journalists should break the rules to enforce press freedom?
Ksenija Pavlovic: The decision to break the rules should be contingent on the “harm principle”. In that context, the journalists should always break the rule as long as their actions do not cause harm to any individual or the society at large.
I did not see any harm in carrying out the audio streaming through social media as we get the full transcript of the briefing anyway. Audio streaming through social media is the most honest and unadulterated way to get the public into the White House Briefing Room and allow them to hear directly from the Spokesperson including the Q&As.
Press freedom is the freedom of the free speech, the value of this freedom lays in the fact that through free speech we exercise the value of democracy.
Having said that, I also believe in the balance between liberty and national security, and in that sense, I do not support breaking the rules that can endanger national security as in that case the safety of the nation and its people would be jeopardized, and such actions would create considerable harm.
What was the reaction among your colleagues and the press in general? Supportive, negative or neutral?
Ksenija Pavlovic: I have received an outpouring of support from the American people, as well as from the fellow journalists all around the world. From Arianna Huffington to PEN America, from The Independent to CBC and Washington Post.
This has triggered an important conversation that we, as a profession, deserve to have. What does it mean to be a journalist today? What are the roles and responsibilities of the media? What are the values we stand for? The public response was a good indicator as to how Americans want to be informed, and what they value the most.
From what they are saying, we can see that they wanted to be included in the conversation and that they wanted to hear directly from the White House during the daily on the record WH briefings. I believe that the American people have sent an important message here. They demanded transparency and I am very pleased that the White House has listened to them and decided to turn the cameras back on in the briefing room
Did someone from the White House talk to you about this issue?
Ksenija Pavlovic: The day after I carried out the audio streaming, I attended the White House press briefing with Sarah Sanders, as normal. The White House did not address any complaints to me. I hoped that my actions would have led to more transparency in the way the White House press briefings are conducted in future. I believed this would be good for democracy, good for our country, good for other journalists. And ultimately good for the White House.
What other initiatives do you think are important to support press freedom?
Ksenija Pavlovic: We should never take our press freedom for granted. Even if we are enjoying it here in America and Europe, we always have to keep advocating for it for the sake of all fellow journalists around the world who are still fighting for basic human freedoms including the free use of the internet. We need to talk about the roles and responsibilities of the media and keep reminding the governments all around the world about this important right and freedom.
Journalists around the world have to stay united and guard transparency and open society especially as we are living through very challenging times in global affairs. We must not forget all the people all around the world who have sacrificed their lives for free speech, as because of them, we are enjoying these freedoms today.
We need to increase the quality of public discourse all around the world, by raising issues, inviting independent thinkers to give their input and analyse our political process. The journalism profession is extremely purposeful and important as it advocates for the universal values of humanity.