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U.S. Response to Report by OSCE Representative for Press Freedom
November 30, 2011

United States Mission to the OSCE
Response to Report by Dunja Mijatovic
Representative for Freedom of the Media

As delivered by Ambassador Ian Kelly
to the Permanent Council, Vienna
November 24, 2011

The United States warmly welcomes back Representative Dunja Mijatovic to the Permanent Council and thanks her for yet another extremely detailed and useful report.  We also would like to thank you as well for wishing us a Happy Thanksgiving – you are one of the things I am thankful for, Dunja.

We also want to acknowledge the hard work of your excellent staff that help make the Office such an important and successful part of this organization, and we thank each and every one of your hard-working staff, as well.

As many of you know, I have spent most of my career as a diplomat working with the media and on media freedom issues.  Yet in my nearly two years at the OSCE, if there is one thing that I have found most unpleasantly surprising — and, in fact, even distressing — and that is the worrying state of media freedom across the OSCE area.  And while there is great cause for concern about media freedom east of Vienna, let me be clear that there are also concerns west of Vienna.

Nevertheless, I wish to begin by taking note, Representative Mijatovic, of some of the positive developments recorded in your report, including the particular emphasis placed on media freedom and the safety of journalists by the Lithuanian Chairmanship and the willingness of the Irish Chairmanship to continue pursuing media freedom as a Chairmanship priority. Like the European Union, we of course support the adoption of strong decisions defending the rights of journalists in Vilnius, most particularly regarding the safety of journalists, and on fundamental freedoms in the digital age.

We were especially pleased to see Montenegro and the Russian Federation decriminalize defamatory speech this year, and we welcomed steps forward on decriminalization by Kyrgyzstan.  We hope that the number of participating States that decriminalize defamation completely will grow in the months ahead.  However, we also recognize that, as has been the case in some participating States, simply decriminalizing defamation is not enough unless legislation protects journalists and media outlets from compensatory civil damages far in excess of any claimed injury.

Unfortunately, the situation in Belarus continues to raise serious concerns for the United States.  We join you in calling for an end to the unprecedented repression against independent media, civil society, and the political opposition launched in the wake of last December’s flawed presidential elections. We regret that despite the Government of Belarus’s assurances of cooperation with you and your office, it still has not made arrangements for you to visit Minsk, nor has it dismissed criminal cases against independent media.  Belarus’s self-imposed isolation will continue until it ends its repressive policies to silence all criticism.

Representative Mijatovic, across the OSCE, the increasing number of journalists who face various forms of intimidation, including criminal prosecution, remains one of the most worrying trends.  We call on the Government of Turkey to give a full accounting of the number of journalists incarcerated or facing criminal charges there for the content of their reporting.  And once again, we repeat our plea for the Government of Uzbekistan to release imprisoned journalists Dilmurod Saiid, Solijon Abdurahmanov, and Hairullo Khamidov.

Representative Mijatovic, the United States also joins with you in expressing concerns about media pluralism in Macedonia.  In particular, we share your concern regarding the closure of several television stations and newspapers and the deteriorating state of media independence in Macedonia.

As incoming and outgoing members of the OSCE Troika, Ukraine and Kazakhstan should set a positive example for all participating States.  We join you in urging Kazakhstan’s leaders to take advantage of the unbiased expertise of your office to bring their existing media legislation into line with Kazakhstan’s OSCE commitments.  Likewise, the Government of Ukraine has repeatedly fallen short of its commitments to media freedom with its handling of the digitalization process and access to the airwaves by ATN, and by the law on court fees passed in July.  We urge both of these participating States to act in accordance with the letter and spirit of their OSCE commitments in this sphere.

We were very pleased this year by you and your office’s increased engagement with some governments — most notably Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.  However, without political will and a commitment to freedom of expression and substantive democratic change on the part of these countries, this engagement will be a hollow one.  We therefore encourage these governments, and others that plan to begin reforming their media laws, to work closely with you and the experts on your staff to ensure full compliance with OSCE media freedom commitments.

Representative Mijatovic, you will doubtless recall that in several of your past appearances before the Permanent Council we have pointed to the absence of any references to Turkmenistan in your report.  We are particularly pleased, therefore, that your office has recently engaged with Turkmenistan to inform discussions with government officials on reforming media legislation to incorporate new communication and information technologies according to OSCE principles and commitments.  Your office continues to provide valuable training opportunities that are an investment in Turkmenistan’s future.  We still see a great many areas where Turkmenistan can improve the implementation of its OSCE commitments concerning media freedom, such as in the accreditation of journalists and media organizations, and the specific prosecution and detention of journalists for their investigative work.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, we wish to express our sincere thanks to the Government of Tajikistan for agreeing to host the next annual Central Asia Media. Tajikistan’s continued use of lawsuits and extremism charges to intimidate journalists investigating corruption and other issues remain a concern, but we are nonetheless grateful for Tajikistan’s willingness to host the conference on such short notice. We look forward to learning the details of the conference and are sure it will be another important contribution to media freedom by your office.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman