United States Emphasizes Importance of Protecting Press Freedom

By Eric Green
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - In recognition of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, the United States is emphasizing the importance of protecting press freedom.

The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor said in a statement supplied to USINFO April 13 that “supporting press freedom is an integral part of our efforts to promote human rights and democracy worldwide.”

The bureau said the State Department provides training for journalists, editors and media managers from countries worldwide, supports professional exchanges and civic education programs and provides assistance for the production of radio and television programs that are independent of state-controlled media.  The bureau added that the State Department “speaks out when press freedoms are under siege."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said April 10 that “there is no more important pillar of democracy than a free and active press.”

Rice said a free press allows for an open exchange of views between citizens and their leaders.  The secretary said that in countries “where people do not yet enjoy the benefits of freedom, it is often journalists who make the sacrifice and endure the danger to try and report to the outside world so that those places can be free.”  (See related article.)


A new report by Ignacio Álvarez of the Organization of American States (OAS) says the right to freedom of expression has advanced in the Western Hemisphere, “especially as a result of the transitions to democracy.”

But Álvarez, the OAS special rapporteur for freedom of expression, added in the April 9 report that “the obstructions of freedom of expression seen in 2006 are genuinely a cause for concern.”

Álvarez said 19 journalists in the Americas were murdered in 2006 for “reasons that could be connected with the exercise of freedom of expression.”  Those murders, he said, mark an increase from the previous three years in the number of killings of journalists.

Eric Watnik, a spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, told USINFO April 10 that the OAS report “clearly indicates” that press freedom in the Americas “has gained ground as a result of democratic consolidation throughout the region.”

Watnik added, however, that “in order to address the continuing obstructions of freedom of expression noted in the report, we as OAS member states must make appropriate efforts to ensure a safe and non-violent environment for the free flow of ideas and public discourse throughout the [Western] Hemisphere.  In this way, we can work to protect and strengthen our shared commitment to the right of freedom of expression.”

The OAS report also said more than 200 instances of assaults and threats were made in the Americas against “communicators” in 2006.  Álvarez said these incidents frequently are not investigated.

The report precedes commemoration of the 17th annual World Press Freedom Day, which stresses the need to defend the media from attacks on its independence, and pays tribute to journalists who have lost their lives while performing their jobs. (See related article.)

U.N. official Koïchiro Matsuura said in a statement that violence against media professionals is one of the “greatest threats” to free expression.  As such, World Press Freedom Day 2007 is being dedicated to the theme of journalist safety, said Matsuura, director-general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Matsuura said 2006 was the “bloodiest year on record” for journalists worldwide, with more than 150 media member killings.  He added that hundreds more media workers were arrested, threatened or attacked because of their work.

“Being a journalist has never been more dangerous,” said Matsuura.

He indicated that far too often, no one is brought to justice for murdering journalists.


On that theme of protecting media workers, UNESCO is sponsoring a May 3-4 conference in Medellin, Colombia, entitled “Press Freedom, Safety of Journalists and Impunity.”

Participants at the Medellin conference will include reporters and editors from around the world, representatives from global press advocacy groups, the German-based Transparency International organization, the OAS special rapporteur, Ignacio Álvarez; and Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos Calderon.

During the conference, UNESCO will award its 2007 World Press Freedom Prize to the late Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya.  She was killed in the entrance to her home in Moscow in October 2006.

President Bush said in a statement following Politkovskaya’s murder that the journalist’s efforts “to shine a light on human rights abuses and corruption … challenged her fellow Russians and, indeed, all of us to summon the courage and will, as individuals and societies, to struggle against evil and rectify injustices.” (See related article.)

News reports described Politkovskaya as an unsparing critic of Russian authorities, who drew both death threats and high praise for her unflinching coverage of the war in Chechnya and ethnic-based conflicts throughout the North Caucasus.

The full text of the OAS report is available on the organization’s Web site.

The full text of Matsuura’s statement and more information about the Medellin conference are available on the UNESCO Web site.

For additional information, see Freedom of the Press.