Freedom of expression and access to factual and accurate information provided by independent media are essential for a thriving and secure democratic society. Freedom of expression under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes the right of all individuals “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any medium, regardless of boundaries.” But it is appalling to think today about the rights of journalists.
This is one of the reasons why we announced the “Khashoggi ban” in response to the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi, in order to help deter threatening behavior against the media. The State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020 and issued in March cite dozens of cases of media workers who have been harassed, attacked, and even killed because of their work. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that the number of journalists killed in retaliation for their reporting increased in 2020, with Mexico and Afghanistan seeing the largest number of fatalities in the profession. The Committee to Protect Journalists notes that the number of journalists imprisoned for their reporting in 2020 has reached the highest level since the organization began monitoring these numbers, and the People’s Republic of China, Turkey and Egypt imprisoned the largest number of reporters last year. Russian authorities continue to restrict independent reporting, including Radio Free Europe.
Unfortunately, the pandemic provided an excuse for repressive governments to ramp up pressure on independent media. The exercise of freedom of expression, especially by members of the press, becomes more important in terms of alerting the public to violations and corruption and confronting dangerous and inaccurate misinformation. We call on all governments to ensure the safety of the media and protect the ability of journalists to perform their jobs without fear of violence, threats, or unfair detention.
Freedom of the press and the free flow of information in our increasingly digital world require internet freedom. We are concerned about the increasing efforts by governments to deprive the public of information and knowledge by controlling access to the Internet and censoring content, including through the widespread use of network restrictions – some of which are as long as 18 months – making it impossible for journalists to report. Independent. Governments must not shut down, block, stifle, or monitor services, as these measures undermine the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association and expression, impose restrictions inappropriately, disrupt access to basic services, and negatively affect the economy.
The United States condemns the use of partial or complete internet shutdowns imposed by governments, among other tactics to prevent the exercise of freedom of expression on the Internet and to restrict the ability of independent journalists to serve the public. We urge governments to investigate and seek accountability for all crimes against journalists and media workers. The United States is committed to working in partnership with the media, the private sector, NGOs, and other concerned governments to support access to information and defend freedom of expression and brave journalists who face intimidation, harassment, arrest, and violence in exercising their rights.