On this World Press Freedom Day, the United States honors the role of a free press in creating sustainable democracies and prosperous societies. We pay special tribute to those journalists who have sacrificed their lives, freedom or personal well-being in pursuit of truth and justice.
Over sixty years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed the right of every person “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” that right remains in peril in far too many countries.
While this year has seen some positive developments, like the release of journalists along with hundreds of other political prisoners in Burma, arbitrary arrests and detentions of journalists continue across the globe. As we condemn recent detentions of journalists like Mazen Darwish, a leading proponent of free speech in Syria, and call for their immediate release, we must not forget others like blogger Dieu Cay, whose 2008 arrest coincided with a mass crackdown on citizen journalism in Vietnam, or journalist Dawit Isaak who has been held incommunicado by the Eritrean government for over a decade without formal charge or trial.
Threats and harassment, like that endured by Ecuadorian journalist Cesar Ricaurte and exiled Belarusian democratic activist Natalya Radzina, and indirect censorship, including through restrictions on freedom of movement like those imposed on Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, continue to have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and the press. We call on all governments to protect the ability of journalists, bloggers, and dissidents to write and speak freely without retribution and to stop the use of travel bans and other indirect forms of censorship to suppress the exercise of these universal rights.
In some cases, it is not just governments threatening the freedom of the press. It is also criminal gangs, terrorists, or political factions. No matter the cause, when journalists are intimidated, attacked, imprisoned, or disappeared, individuals begin to self-censor, fear replaces truth, and all of our societies suffer. A culture of impunity for such actions must not be allowed to persist in any country.
This year, across the Middle East, North Africa and beyond, the world witnessed not only these perils, but also the promise that a free press holds for fostering innovative, successful, and stable democracies. On this World Press Freedom Day, we call upon all governments to seize that promise by recognizing the vital role of a free press and taking the necessary steps to create societies in which independent journalists can operate freely and without fear.