On World Press Freedom Day, the United States pays special honor to the importance of media freedom – a crucial element of freedom of expression – at home and abroad. A diverse and independent press is crucial to holding governments accountable and promoting democracy around the world. The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) at the U.S. Department of State details the state of media freedom around the world in the Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The USAID Media Sustainability Index is an equally important tool in monitoring and reporting on media freedom. The Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs also routinely highlights the mounting threats to journalists everywhere and the critical importance of a free press to democratic societies. The United States continuously works to advance media freedom around the world through bilateral engagement, public diplomacy, programming, and multilateral diplomacy.
Examples of State Department and USAID efforts to promote media freedom include:
- The State Department’s Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists, through the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), has welcomed more than 1,000 rising international journalists to the United States since 2006 to explore the role of independent media in fostering and protecting freedom of expression and democracy.
- The State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) provided country-specific press freedom projects, as well as public diplomacy programming tools centered on blogging and ethics and a journalism ethics package promoting credibility and integrity in a digital age, both of which empower local citizens to share their stories. IIP also partnered with Embassy Dhaka, Bangladesh for a virtual program on applying journalist ethics in today’s digital age of 24-hour news and social media.
- The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor funds 86 media programs, including programs that focus on investigative reporting, conflict sensitivity reporting, civic engagement by youth through media, increasing diversity in the media sector, gender-sensitive media programming, and access to independent media in local languages.
- In the Middle East and North Africa, DRL is funding a program to train youth, many of which are at-risk, to influence national and regional dialogues and debates on democracy and human rights through media.
- DRL’s internet freedom programs focus on technology that not only provides journalists with online security, but also gives them open and uncensored access to information and communications, in addition to digital safety training and support.
- In Mexico, DRL is funding a program that assists Mexican media professionals, including journalists, bloggers, and others, by continuously monitoring local security environments and responding to elevated threat levels.
- DRL’s SAFE Initiative provides state-of-the-art trainings to journalists on physical and digital security and psychosocial care through centers in San Salvador, El Salvador; Tbilisi, Georgia; and Nairobi, Kenya. This year the program will expand, adding an additional hub in Asia.
- The U.S. Middle East Partnership Initiative assisted 66 media sector organizations and hundreds of journalists promoting media freedom and journalist training in the Middle East and North Africa region in FY13.
- USAID also provides strong support for media freedom around the world. Currently, USAID supports independent media strengthening programs in more than 31 countries, with an approximate annual total budget of $40 million.
Examples of these initiatives include:
- Since 2011, USAID’s Internet Freedom programming has worked with hundreds of vulnerable civil society and independent media organizations and bloggers in more than a dozen countries to provide them with long-term mentoring, tools, training, and techniques to keep themselves and their data safe and resilient online.
- In Ukraine, a local partner organization of the USAID-supported Regional Investigative Journalism Network (RIJN) has played an active role in anti-corruption efforts by securing and making public thousands of sensitive documents that former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his entourage attempted to destroy upon fleeing the presidential compound in early 2014. The Organized Crime and Reporting Project (or OCCRP), an organization which supports RIJN, has also created a website to track assets held by former Ukrainian officials abroad.
- In Afghanistan, USAID support has resulted in the emergence of a national network of nearly 50 Afghan-owned and operated radio stations with millions of listeners across the country. Notably, USAID seed capital support to the Tolo Television network, a popular source of independent news, has allowed Tolo to grow and provide non-state television to over two-thirds of the population.
- The USAID-supported program “Building a Digital Gateway to Better Lives” has empowered more than 200 professional and citizen journalists in the Middle East and North Africa to report on issues rarely covered by local media by giving them hands-on experience with digital journalism tools.
The U.S. government has also brought media freedom issues to the fore at the UN and in regional multilateral forums. For example:
- At the March 2014 UN Human Rights Council (HRC) session, the United States sponsored a consensus resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression, a vital international voice promoting freedom of expression, including press freedom.
- The United States joined over 70 other states in a joint statement highlighting the importance of the safety of journalists at the September 2013 UN HRC session.
- The United States condemned violence against journalists and called for their protection, especially as they report on armed conflicts, at a UN Security Council debate that we convened on July 17, 2013. We also co-sponsored a resolution on violence against journalists at the September 2013 Human Rights Council session and last fall’s UN General Assembly.
- The United States fully endorsed the 2012 UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.