In recognition of World Press Freedom Day on May 3rd, the United States is emphasizing the importance of protecting freedom of the press. Supporting press freedom is an integral part of U.S. efforts to promote human rights and democracy worldwide. The U.S. State Department provides training for journalists, editors, and media managers from many countries, 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 U.S. also speaks out when press freedoms are under siege. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, 2006 was the "bloodiest year on record" for journalists, with more than one-hundred-fifty members of the media killed worldwide. Hundreds more were arrested, threatened or attacked because of their work.
This year, the main celebration of World Press Freedom Day, organized by UNESCO, will take place in Medellin, Colombia. The theme of the conference is "Safety of Journalists and Impunity". UNESCO will posthumously award the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize to Russian reporter Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot to death in Moscow in October 2006. Following her murder, President George W. Bush said her efforts "to shine a light on human rights abuses and corruption challenged her fellow Russians and all of us to summon the courage and will, as individuals and societies, to struggle against evil and rectify injustices."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says there is "no more important pillar of democracy than a free and active press":
"In fact, our Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, called it the "fourth estate" and by that he meant that without a free and active press the people could not be certain that their views would be known to their leaders and that their leaders' views would be known to them. It is a great tradition that the press is a place for active debate, for active reporting, for investigative reporting, for in-depth reporting and for daily reporting. But it's also a great tradition. . . .that journalists are often those who are on the front lines of some of the most difficult conflicts in the world, very often giving their lives, paying the highest sacrifice to report the news."
"In countries that are not yet free," said Ms. Rice, "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."