Remarks on World Press Freedom Day


Thank you, Tara and Elisa.

I’m glad to join you all today, to discuss threats to freedom of expression around the world. It is a topic that the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor works on with NGOs, journalists, and governments, each and every day of the year. And like you, we believe that every day should be Press Freedom Day.

As Under Secretary Sonenshine mentioned, we are citing individual cases daily, and you can see those cases on HumanRights.gov. But the fact is, journalists face challenges everywhere, from the Middle East to South America, and from Africa to Europe to Asia. There aren’t enough days in the year to list them all.

In China, for example, the government has stepped up harassment of foreign journalists, selectively delaying the renewal of visas. It continues to repress journalists – by monitoring Internet use, controlling content, blocking access to foreign and domestic Web sites, and punishing those deemed to run afoul of political sensitivities.

We continue to be extremely concerned about threats to freedom of expression in Sri Lanka. Last week, we condemned an attack made against the Uthayan newspaper – just one of many attacks against this outlet and other media organizations. We urge Sri Lankan authorities to conduct a credible investigation into the matter and to hold perpetrators accountable.
What we do to advance media freedom on a daily basis is fourfold.

Firstly, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor works actively to engage governments publically and privately on issues of major concern. This includes addressing specific cases of imprisoned journalists; new legislation that restricts certain types of expression; and existing legal frameworks that sanction the locking up of journalists in the name of security.

We remind governments that allowing free expression increases – rather than diminishes – their chances of long term stability and prosperity. And as we did with the government of Sri Lanka, we encourage other countries to stand with those journalists brave enough to speak out against corruption, authoritarianism, and other threats to a free society.

Secondly, we work in multilateral forums to hold governments accountable to their human rights obligations, including those specified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This includes supporting UN resolutions on freedom of expression, like the Human Rights Council resolution on the Safety of Journalists from last September and the resolution on Internet Freedom from last June.

We also work to ensure that UN resolutions dealing with issues like promoting religious tolerance, also include protections for freedom of expression, including for the media. And we convey our concerns about press freedom in various countries through statements, country-specific resolutions, and the Universal Periodic Review process.

Third, as U/S Sonenshine noted, it is a priority for DRL to support media freedom through its foreign assistance. DRL funds programs in more than 40 countries that build the capacity for media actors to effectively investigate and report in restrictive and dangerous environments.

Our Internet Freedom programs support technologies that enable citizen journalists and activists to report on human rights developments and to protect themselves from threats online and offline. These tools give bloggers access to the web when they would otherwise be shut off from the rest of the world.

The Bureau will soon launch hubs in Georgia, Kenya, and El Salvador dedicated to providing trainings on digital and physical safety and emotional self-care to journalists in those regions. And since 2007, DRL has provided almost $1.1 million assistance for investigative journalists, and bloggers, and other media professionals who are under threat.

Finally, we speak directly with civil society — NGOs and journalists – to gain a fuller picture of the situation on the ground — and we encourage our embassies to do the same. With this brief overview of how we support media freedom around the world I would like to open the floor to your thoughts and questions.

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