Around the world – in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Vietnam, Syria, Russia, Iran, and other countries – journalists are under siege, and freedom of expression is under threat. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that in 2014 more than 60 journalists were killed; hundreds imprisoned and dozens remain missing.
Reporters without Borders notes that governmental attempts to silence journalists include censorship, harassment, restrictive NGO laws, and public threats by political leaders.
Speaking at Columbia University in New York, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel, himself a former journalist, described freedom of expression as a “foundational human right.” Challenges to that freedom he said, “are now deeper and more profound”” than at any time in decades.
He described three: the physical dangers journalists confront in conflict zones and elsewhere; the shrinking space for free expression in countries with autocratic leadership; and the rise of disinformation.
In the past, journalists trying to expose the truth were given a kind of safe pass, said Under Secretary Stengel. Now they are targets of regimes and of terrorists like ISIL. As such, supporting freedom of the press is a critical element of U.S. foreign policy. It is one of the issues that our diplomats around the world regularly address in bilateral talks with governments; one initiative provides trainings to journalists on physical and digital security and psychosocial care throughout the world; and the U.S. has invested over $100 million in Internet Freedom programs to provide tools and trainings to thousands of vulnerable civil society and independent journalists around the world.
Finally, in response to the rise of disinformation -- from terrorist groups or autocratic regimes -- the United States is being pro-active, said Under Secretary Stengel, in claiming the space for truth- telling –- by pushing back on propaganda and falsehood with fact-based messages, as well as by supporting independent media around the world with financial, technical, and logistical support.
And why? Because, as President Barack Obama has said, “Journalists give all of us, as citizens, the chance to know the truth about our countries, ourselves, our governments. That makes us better. It makes us stronger.”