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Free The Press: Supporting Journalists Under Duress
May 3, 2012

Posted by Thomas O. Melia
on DipNote, the U.S. Department of State Blog
May 02, 2012

A group of people with cameras
Journalists outside the Geneva U.S. Mission last year during talks between the U.S. and North Korea.

Tom Melia serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

On May 3, people worldwide will observe World Press Freedom Day, a UNESCO initiative.  They will gather in cities and towns, through workshops and seminars, to join in celebrating the universal right of free expression first enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights more than six decades ago.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of addressing the importance of free expression and a free press at the National Endowment for Democracy. I emphasized that a free press is the bedrock of a free, healthy and energetic society. It allows citizens to hold informed opinions, make informed decisions and lead informed lives. It keeps public officials accountable, provides outlets for healthy debate, and enables society to become more stable, prosperous, and democratic.

But, like a mirror to society, the media also reflects a version of reality that can at times make us proud and at times make us cringe.

That is why journalists are on the front lines in the battle for free expression. Their treatment by government often serves as an indicator for the levels of freedom in society. As Secretary Clinton said on last year’s World Press Freedom Day, “When a free media is in jeopardy, all other human rights are threatened.”

Today, too many editors, citizen journalists, bloggers, photojournalists, videographers and pundits are attacked, threatened, censored, intimidated, disappeared or even murdered for trying to report the news or exercise their right to freedom of expression. Those who are imperiled need their stories heard.

That is why, this year, the State Department launched a “Free The Press” campaign. On a daily basis since April 18, we have been highlighting on HumanRights.gov one representative case of a journalist whose rights are being endangered and abused. Some, like Dawit Isaac of Eritrea, have been held incommunicado without formal charge or trial. Yet others, like Yoani Sanchez of Cuba, are not permitted to leave the country. To see the journalists we have highlighted in the past two weeks, visit HumanRights.gov or visit us on Facebook.

In the coming year, we will continue to stand up for the right to free expression in every medium — in print and pixel, in image and imagination. And not just on World Press Freedom Day, but every day.