Today we commemorate World Press Freedom Day, an opportunity to address press freedom challenges, shine a spotlight on journalist safety and honor our fallen journalists. As the head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), and as a journalist myself, I cannot underscore enough the necessity of raising these issues every day.
Earlier this week, we marked the one-year anniversary of the deaths of three Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalists. They were senselessly killed on April 30, 2018 in Kabul, Afghanistan, in a bombing that targeted journalists. Through the years, 18 USAGM colleagues in total have paid the ultimate price in pursuit of the truth. I am reminded of this grave reality every day when I pass our Fallen Journalists Memorial at our headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Unfortunately, USAGM continues to witness firsthand how a free and independent media is deteriorating worldwide. We work in countries where government pressure has shuttered operations and where journalists and their families face intimidation, threats, expulsion, and imprisonment. According to the Reporters Without Borders 2019 World Press Freedom Index, only 24 percent of the world’s countries and territories are classified as being in a “good situation” when it comes to media freedom. This is a dismal and unfortunate statistic, and if allowed to continue, stands as a threat to the critical work of a free press as it underpins democracy everywhere.
Despite the challenging state of journalism, USAGM reporters and stringers continue to take great risks to work in some of the most difficult environments in the world. At this very moment, some of our colleagues are in prison just for doing their job – reporting the news:
- Nguyen Van, a videographer and contributor for Radio Free Asia’s (RFA) Vietnamese service, is serving a 7-year sentence and has suffered mistreatment while in jail;
- Truong Duy Nhat, a contributor and blogger for RFA’s Vietnamese Service, went missing in Thailand after seeking political asylum. In March, RFA confirmed he is being held in a prison in Hanoi; and
- Stanislav Aseyev, a contributor for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Ukrainian Service, was forcibly disappeared in June 2017 and is being held in deplorable conditions by Russia-backed separatists.
We are working with the appropriate authorities to bring our imprisoned journalists safely home to their families.
USAGM places a premium on journalist safety and security, and it remains my personal and professional mission to provide support and assistance to our journalists around the globe. With that priority in mind, I am pleased to announce the establishment of the USAGM Employee Association, a support network for fallen and injured journalists and their families, which officially launched in March 2019.
On this World Press Freedom Day, USAGM reaffirms its commitment to the fundamental principles of press freedom. Despite some very dark moments, we have not been silenced. We will continue to report the truth. We will continue to find new ways to get independent reporting and programming to global audiences who rely on it. And we will continue to carry through our mission to inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.
Today, and every day, I am proud to be part of this organization, and call these brave men and women colleagues, as we stand together for press freedom.