It is my profound honor and privilege to be with you here today representing the United States as the host of last year’s World Press Freedom Day events and in the context of the Washington Declaration.
We gather here in Tunis a year later to mark progress against the aspirations and objectives expressed in that Declaration, and in the context of the dramatic social and political events that began here in Tunisia and transpired across the region.
First, my sincere appreciation to you, Mr. President, and the government of Tunisia for hosting this important annual event which pays homage to those who work to transmit the truth – through words, pictures, sound and pixels I would also like to applaud the tireless, continuing work of UNESCO in promoting the ideals of free and open media. Madame Director General, the United States remains a committed advocate for the excellent work of your organization in supporting the development of free media and freedom of expression around the world.
Ladies and gentlemen, last year’s events focused particular attention on the rapid expansion of internet and other social media, and the role of those technologies in empowering civil society. We see evidence of that empowerment every day, and even in the most difficult of environments, such as in Syria, those connective technologies ensure that the world witnesses the truth of what is happening on the ground.
The impact of those technologies is of course evident right here in Tunisia, and I’m pleased to note that the role of bloggers and new media continues to grow and flourish here. Indeed, this evolution in the media world was among the Washington Declaration’s key themes, with objectives including:
- ensuring an environment in which media are pluralistic and free from political interference;
- action to assure the safety of journalists, bloggers, and all who express themselves on digital media platforms; and
- promoting a legal environment in which free speech is encouraged, and penalized neither by onerous defamation laws, nor excessive monetary penalties.
America has had its own historical struggles with free speech. As one of our great founding fathers Thomas Jefferson said: "The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure."
Those words ring true today.
It is in this last context that I note with disappointment and concern today’s verdict in the case of Nessma TV CEO Nabil Karoui, His conviction raises serious concerns about tolerance and freedom of expression in the new Tunisia. I understand that Mr. Karoui has the right to appeal his conviction, and hope that mechanism will result in a clear endorsement of the right to free expression.
Mr. President, the United States takes note of the remarkable changes in Tunisia over the last 16 months, and we congratulate you and the people of Tunisia for the strides taken to advance democratic ideals. We remain committed to assisting Tunisia in these efforts according to needs it defines and aspirations all freedom-loving people share.
It is now my pleasure to share with you a message from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the context of World Press Freedom Day.