With nearly 600 journalists being murdered with impunity since 1992, the United States of America today reported that 2012 was the deadliest year for journalists.
Reports say almost 250 journalists are currently suffering in prisons worldwide.
Some of these journalists are threatened and harassed simply for doing their work reporting what is going on in their communities and in their countries.
Last year, more than 45 individuals were wrongly imprisoned in Iran. Even in countries that are moving, overall, towards democratic consolidation, there are places where journalists can be threatened and even imprisoned for their work. This year, for instance, 49 journalists are in Turkish jails – more than in the jails of any other individual country.
According to U.S. Under-Secretary Tara Sonenshine for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, even though the size and scope of its media has dramatically expanded over the past decade, members of the press in Pakistan still face pressure to self-censor and restrict their coverage of sensitive issues.
She says security forces, political parties, militants, and other groups routinely harass and threaten journalists and that harassment can, and does, extend to violence.
She cites that Reporters Without Borders counted 10 journalists killed and two imprisoned in 2012 alone.
In addition, scores more have been threatened, abducted, and survived violent attacks.
Iran known prominently for restricting freedom of expression
Reports say Iran has jailed 45 journalists since 2012.
The US is calling on the government to protect the right of media freedom for all its citizens.
At the US Virtual Embassy Tehran page, one can see the Faces of Iran site that highlights citizens imprisoned for their religious or political beliefs.
The US has highlighted the case of Zhila Bani-Yaghoub from Iran where she was an editor of the “Focus on Iranian Women” website. She has been jailed one year at Evin Prison for articles she wrote during the 2009 presidential election.
Zhila Bani-Yaghoub was charged with “spreading propaganda against the system” and “insulting the president.”
She has also been banned from practicing journalism for 30 years.
Previously, she was tried and acquitted on similar charges three times since 2009.
Press freedom is the moral equivalent of oxygen.
According to Ms. Sonenshine, the United States of America was built on freedom of expression.
It was one of Americans’ first breaths of life as a nation and remains an indispensible and enduring element of who they are.
“And it is a fundamental freedom for all people, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” – Ms. Sonenshine.
She says media freedom is a key part of that; whether it comes from what Americans say in public squares or from what they type on their keyboards online, print newspapers, blogs, texts, or tweets.
US believes that press freedom is how any free, healthy, vibrant, and functioning society breathes, and it is essential to building civil societies.
“Without it, aspirations choke, economies suffocate, and countries are unable to grow.” – Ms. Sonenshine.
She points out that some governments are too weak or unwilling to protect journalists and media outlets.
In addition, many others exploit or create criminal libel or defamation or blasphemy laws in their favor and misuse terrorism laws to prosecute and imprison journalists.
Some states even pressure media outlets to shut down by causing crippling financial damage and buy or nationalize media outlets to suppress different viewpoints.
US urges leaders, civil society, governments to enforce human right that protect journalists
The US is urging all people, members of news organizations, civil society and think tank institutions; political leaders, scholars, and citizens of every faith and ethnicity to call for accountability.
They must demand that governments enforce human rights that protect journalists and this fundamental freedom.
“To shine a light on long-standing and emerging repressive restrictions on, and threats to, freedom of expression whether they are through traditional media or online.” – Ms. Sonenshine.
US funding programs to support press freedom
According to Ms. Sonenshine, the U.S. Government continues to fund programs to provide media organizations and journalists with the tools and resources they need to produce high-quality stories without fear of retribution.
The US government will soon be building safety training facilities in El Salvador, Nairobi, and Georgia.
The US provides training and exchanges to the United States, including our Edward R. Murrow Program, and a Foreign Press Center program for visiting journalists from around the world to begin later this month.
The US also remains committed to supporting technological innovations that expand the space for freedom of expression, and opportunities for citizens around the world to speak out and stand up for their human rights.
In addition, the US calls upon the international community to join in this and other commitments, and in addressing the undue restrictions, attacks, and threats to press freedom worldwide.
Global Media Freedom At Low Point
The percentage of the world’s population living in societies with a fully free press has fallen to its lowest level in over a decade, according to a Freedom House report released today.
An overall downturn in global media freedom in 2012 was punctuated by a dramatic decline in Mali, deterioration in Greece, and a further tightening of controls in Latin America. Moreover, conditions remained uneven in the Middle East and North Africa, with Tunisia and Libya largely retaining gains from 2011 even as Egypt experienced significant backsliding.
The report, Freedom of the Press 2013, found that despite positive developments in Burma, the Caucasus, parts of West Africa, and elsewhere, the dominant trend was one of setbacks in a range of political settings. Reasons for decline included the increasingly sophisticated repression of independent journalism and new media by authoritarian regimes; the ripple effects of the European economic crisis and longer-term challenges to the financial sustainability of print media; and ongoing threats from nonstate actors such as radical Islamists and organized crime groups.
Internet freedom under threat too!
The US says internet freedom is increasingly under threat.
Repressive regimes understand the power of this technology, and they are redoubling their attempts to control it.
Internet freedom derives from universal and cherished rights, the freedoms of speech, assembly, and association and is based on the concept that the same rights that apply offline apply in new online environments.
The US notes that an open and accessible Internet gives people a platform from which to express their aspirations and shape their own destiny.
The US believes people in every country deserve to be able to take part in building a more peaceful, prosperous, and democratic society.
In the 21st century, technology is a powerful tool with which to exercise human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Internet, mobile phone networks, and other new technologies have a profound effect on the ability of citizen movements around the world to organize themselves in this era.
Repressive governments used to set up simple firewalls at Internet Exchange Points to block external content from outside their borders.
In addition, some states are using sophisticated software to monitor all digital activity within their countries, and to delete posts and block emails in something approaching real time.
Some countries track what their citizens do on their phones and computers and exert state control over content, over users, over companies, and over the infrastructure of the Internet.
Earlier in 2012, the U.S. said it was committed to advance internet freedom, and in late October, made internet freedom a foreign policy priority. At that time, in a presentation at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership, Assistant Secretary Michael H. Posner said the U.S. Congress had allocated $70 million to the U.S. State Department, to fund technology, training and policy advocacy for Internet freedom around the world.