Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
May 5, 2008
The United States Supports Press Freedom Worldwide
In commemoration of World Press Freedom Day (May 3), we highlight the vital role played by a free and independent press in advancing and defending freedom of expression and democratic principles of government worldwide. We salute courageous journalists across the globe, who often work in dangerous circumstances, to bring their fellow citizens and the world public news and views, hold governments accountable for their actions, and contribute to the free flow of ideas and information critical to the success of all societies in the 21st century. In countries where independent journalists and media are at risk, the fundamental freedoms of all citizens are at stake.
Regrettably, governments that distrust or fear what they cannot control continue to abuse their power and twist the law to use them against independent journalists and media, including those on the Internet. Among such actions are the imposition of restrictive media laws, criminal actions filed under repressive “defamation” or “libel” laws, burdensome licensing requirements, seizures of equipment, restrictions on printing materials and other means of production, restrictions on media access, and the targeting of journalists for arrest and imprisonment. Independent journalists often face extrajudicial measures such as harassment, assault and kidnapping -- even murder -- often by unknown assailants. The following serve as illustrative examples of restrictions on press freedom and repression of the media:
- In Belarus, in a nation-wide crackdown on March 27, authorities detained some 30 independent journalists in 12 cities. The regime there has failed to account for past disappearances of journalists, seized published materials from civil society activists, and closed or limited the distribution of independent newspapers.
- In Burma, independent media outlets are non-existent and independent journalists are subject to harassment, detention and imprisonment. Foreign journalists are granted entry visas only when it serves the regime’s interests. In February, two journalists from the Myanmar Nation were arrested for possessing a UN report on Burma's human rights conditions. During the 2007 protests, the regime detained six journalists, and in one tragic case, security forces killed a Japanese journalist who was reporting on the protests.
- Chinese authorities continued to tighten restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, including increased efforts to control and censor the Internet, particularly in anticipation of and during sensitive events. Journalists were expelled from Tibet following the protests in March. Contrary to assurances that China made in the run-up to the Olympic Games to allow unfettered access throughout China to foreign media, reporting from Tibetan areas and Xinjiang remains restricted.
- In Cuba, five years after “Black Spring” in 2003, during which 27 journalists were arrested and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 14 to 27 years, 19 of them are still in jail under harsh conditions, including solitary confinement, denial of medical care and restrictions on family visits. Four more journalists were imprisoned since 2005, three of them after Raúl Castro succeeded his brother in July 2006. The Cuban government strictly limits and controls media and Internet access.
- In Egypt, courts have convicted and sentenced several independent newspaper editors on charges ranging from misquoting the justice minister to defaming the president and senior officials of the ruling party. The government has also arrested, detained, and abused several Internet bloggers.
- Freedom of the press remains severely restricted in Eritrea and private press is banned. Most independent journalists are under detention or have fled the country. In recent months, even members of the state-run media have been detained. Travel of International reporters is restricted and their reporting monitored.
- In Iran, media restrictions continued to increase -- newspapers were closed, journalists and bloggers threatened and imprisoned, and the government enforced censorship of publications and Internet usage.
- No independent media is allowed in North Korea. Visits by foreign journalists are carefully managed. Listening to foreign media broadcasts is prohibited, except by the political elite, and violators are subject to severe punishment.
- In Pakistan, attacks on the media and journalists increased, including 7 journalists killed and 100 abducted in 2007; all of the abductees were later released. During the November 2007 State of Emergency, the government instituted a media code of conduct that restricted independent media – restrictions that the new government has pledged to lift.
- In Russia, government pressure continued to weaken freedom of expression and media independence, particularly of the major television networks. The government restricted media freedom through direct ownership of media outlets, influencing the owners of major outlets, and harassing and intimidating journalists into practicing self-censorship. The murders of prominent journalists remain unsolved.
- In Somalia, journalists and media organizations in all regions reported abuse including killings, kidnappings, detention without charge, and assaults on persons and property. Most reporters and senior editors have fled the country due to direct threats from both government security forces and antigovernment groups.
- In Syria, the government arrested journalists and strictly controlled the dissemination of information by media outlets, including foreign media.
- In Uzbekistan, the law limits criticism of the president, and “public insults” to the leader can result in up to five years in prison. The government tightly controls all media outlets and often retaliates against those who are critical of the government, including through arrests and forced psychiatric treatment.
- In Venezuela, the government continues to restrict media coverage. In November, the press freedom advocacy group Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) stated that the Venezuelan government committed more transgressions against the press than any other in the Western Hemisphere. The statement followed the forced closure of Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), one of the few remaining independent broadcast networks in the country, following the government’s refusal to renew its broadcast license.
- In Zimbabwe, the government barred foreign media from covering the March 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections and detained several journalists. Journalists self-censor due to intimidation and the continuing prospect of prosecution under criminal libel and security laws.
The U.S. Advances and Defends World Press Freedom: Working in partnership with other democratic governments, international institutions, NGOs and other defenders of free media around the world, the United States:
- Monitors and reports on abuses of freedom of expression, including in our annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
- Condemns the persecution of journalists.
- Stands up for freedom of expression in multilateral fora, for example, by supporting the work of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, by supporting the work of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication.
- Funds exchanges and other programs to encourage press freedom, from supporting student-run university-based community radio stations in the Middle East to training media and civil society organizations from Southeast Asia on how to harness Information Communication Technology (ICT) to overcome political and economic barriers to freedom of expression and information.
- Promotes Freedom of Expression via the Internet through the Global Internet Freedom Task Force (GIFT), launched by Secretary Rice in 2006, to encourage businesses, civil society, and other governments to advocate policies and practices that foster media freedom via the web and combat Internet censorship.