U.S. Mission to the United Nations
Office of Press and Public Diplomacy
New York, N.Y.
May 4, 2015
Remarks by Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at a Panel Discussion in Commemoration of World Press Freedom Day, May 4, 2015
Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. I’m very grateful to each of you for coming to hear what I hope to be – and I assume will be – a very enlightening discussion on a very urgent cause.
Yesterday, May the 3rd, was World Press Freedom Day, a day when we celebrate a right enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says in part that everyone has the right, “to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
This article embodies freedom of the press, which is, in its essence, the freedom to pursue the truth. The pursuit of the truth in large part inspired me to become a journalist a long time ago, and I see a number of journalists in the audience, perhaps it inspired you, too, to become a journalist.
These days, unfortunately, we still see too many stories of journalists killed in the line of duty. In 2014, at least 60 journalists were killed; 73 were killed in 2013. Some were killed by terrorists, others by narco-traffickers. Some died in war zones, others were targeted and murdered by their own governments. The pursuit of truth is a dangerous business and it has become ever more so.
But journalists are also subject to other types of repression: they or their outlets can be censored, attacked, threatened, shuttered, or harassed because of their reporting. And when media and journalists are silenced, the peoples’ voices go silent; accountability erodes, putting democratic governance and other rights and freedoms at risk. That is why defense of a free press is central to the work of the U.S. government’s promotion of human rights.
It motivates our work here at the UN: last year, the United States co-sponsored a UN General Assembly resolution on safety of journalists and the issue of impunity, and a UN Human Rights Council resolution on the safety of journalists. And in July 2013, just before I assumed my position here, we used our presidency of the UN Security Council to host a debate in which we condemned violence against journalists and called for their protection, especially as they report on armed conflicts.
This defense of a free press is also why, for the last four years, the U.S. State Department has held its “Free the Press” campaign, which profiles journalists or media outlets who cannot speak. Last year, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations hosted the launch of the “Free the Press” campaign.
This year, we are fortunate to host two remarkable journalists who are able to raise their voices and speak out before you on an issue that is so very important, which is freedom of the press. And I would like to introduce them to you.
Soli Gebremicheal is a founding member of Ethiopia’s Zone 9 blog. Six of her Zone 9 colleagues are currently imprisoned in Ethiopia, charged in July 2014 under Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. Soli, along with two other colleagues, left Ethiopia to avoid imprisonment.
Soli is working with Freedom House now and she is also the coordinator for the Ethiopian Human Rights Project, a civil society group that seeks to bolster the advocacy work done by domestic and international actors to advance human rights in Ethiopia.
Kenan Aliyev is the director of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijani Service, Radio Azadliq, and he is the executive editor of RFE/RL’s newly launched Russian language television project called “Current Time,” which provides a reality check against all of the Russian government’s propaganda on the airwaves.
Kenan also has extensive experience in investigative reporting, which in Azerbaijan is not for the faint of heart; journalists and bloggers have been arrested and harassed. A colleague of Kenan’s, Khadija Ismailova, is still in jail for reporting on political corruption.
These individuals are free, but they represent the thousands of journalists around the world who are not, who are silenced while they languish in prison, like Mazen Darwish, who yesterday was awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize – he could not be there to receive the award in person because he is currently in a prison in Syria.
His crime, like that of so many others, was daring to speak out against the human rights violations being committed by the Syrian government. They also represent the thousands of journalists who are working, but who also languish in prisons of silence, who censor themselves so as to stay out of jail or to keep themselves and their families safe.
It is a great pleasure for me to welcome these two brave journalists here to the U.S. Mission today for what I know will be a stimulating discussion and I will open the floor later for a few questions from the audience. Soli and Kenan, let’s get started.