Foreign Press Center Briefing On World Press Freedom Day [document] (allAfrica.com)

Foreign Press Center briefing with Doug Frantz Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs; Vanessa Tucker, Freedom House Vice President; and Jennifer Dunham, Freedom House “Freedom Of The Press” Project Manager:

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Thank you, Cynthia, and thanks to all of you for coming. Apologies for keeping you waiting a few minutes here. I think as you all know, the State Department is emphasizing media freedom issues throughout this week in the run-up to World Press Freedom Day on Sunday, May 3rd. And today’s release of the Freedom House report is an important moment in our effort to focus attention on the state of freedom of expression around the world.

We start, I think, with a singular fact: This has been a horrific year for journalists. They have been murdered, beheaded, jailed, beaten, threatened. Some governments we see are engaged in aggressive campaigns to shrink the space for free and independent press by any means at their disposal. These actions represent an attack on the integrity of the profession and on the ability of journalists to do their jobs. But they’re also an attack on one of the fundamental elements of democracy: freedom of expression. Democracies do not target journalists; democracies do not threaten journalists; democracies do not make journalism a crime.

As a former journalist, I spent 37 years as a newspaper reporter and editor, and as a current government official, I find this both tragic and shocking how much worse the situation has become over the course of the past year. And I want you to know that the State Department is working actively to mitigate both the physical and the political threats to journalists everywhere. In January, Secretary Kerry convened a conference that brought together journalists, media executives, likeminded governments, foundations, training providers, and NGOs. The purpose was to spark a conversation about concrete steps that could be taken to address gaps in the safety resources and training available to journalists working in conflict zones.

The focus was on helping the most vulnerable members of your profession, the freelancers and the local reporters who often work in these conflict zones without the training and support networks that are available to their colleagues from large news organizations. This was a very vigorous and interesting day-long conference, and I think we came out of it with some actions for both the journalists and NGOs and trainers who were there, and, from my perspective at least as importantly, for the State Department.

Let me briefly talk about three actions that the State Department is undertaking as a result of that conference.

First, we’re working to improve the coordination and information available to journalists at risk through our embassies and our consulates. And just to talk about that briefly, what we’re trying to do is establish a protocol for all of our consulates and embassies worldwide, so that when a journalist is in distress, they can call the consulate or the embassy and that person there will know who they should reach out to. We’ll have a practice in place to help them, and we’re trying to expand. We do this now for American journalists. We sometimes do it for journalists who work for American publications and media outlets, but we’re trying to expand that within the Department so that our clients are all journalists who face risks, who face threats from militias, from government opposition, from governments. So we’re really working hard at getting that spread throughout our posts around the world.

The second thing we’re doing is we’re spending more money to train journalists to work as safely as possible in conflict zones. This training, which is offered through our SAFE Initiative at three regional centers in El Salvador, Georgia, and Kenya, offers real-world instruction in physical and digital security to journalists. We’re going to find some more money; we’re going to open, I hope, another couple of regional centers to expand this very valuable program. We’re had about 350 journalists worldwide go through it since it started three years ago, and we’d like to increase that number significantly.

Third, and finally, we’re working to raise the profile of crimes against journalists so we can help end the impunity that allows too many people to go free for crimes against journalists. This, to me, was one of the of the most shocking things that came out of the conference in January. The Committee to Protect Journalists was there and they had a raft of statistics. I hope you’re all familiar with them in terms of the number of deaths of journalists last year – 61 – and in terms of imprisonment – 700. But the statistic that shocked me and really stuck with me was that over the past 10 years, 90 percent of the crimes against journalists have gone unprosecuted. No one has been prosecuted 9 out of 10 times. That’s unacceptable. It’s unacceptable for the United States, where we believe freedom of expression is a universal human value; it’s unacceptable for any democracy. So what we’re going to try to do, with Secretary Kerry’s support, is push this out as a bilateral priority for our ambassadors and other principal officers so that when they have conversations with their counterparts in host countries, they know that this is one of the issues that they should be raising. And we’re looking at other ways to integrate this issue into the State Department’s normal business procedures.

And you’re about to hear from Freedom House, whose officials will share the details of their new freedom of the press index. One of their key findings is that press freedom in nearly every region of the world has declined. This is particularly true in Eurasia, and I want to focus on that for just a minute. Here we see Russia’s attempts to squeeze the space for free expression and to embark on a worldwide campaign of disinformation. This effort has already undermined the sovereignty of Ukraine, but I think there’s a larger goal, which is to weaken support for other young democracies along the Russian periphery and to weaken support for multilateral organizations like the EU and NATO. I recently returned from the Baltics where I spoke with students and journalists and government officials about this issue. Later this week, I’m headed back to the region where I will represent the United States at UNESCO’s official World Press Freedom Day in Riga, Latvia.

I consider countering Russian disinformation to be a top priority that requires more U.S. Government engagement with international media. Countering propaganda is not about producing counterpropaganda, it’s about ensuring that journalists have a voice to foster the free exchange of ideas and to serve as an arbiter of the truth. In an age when too many actors are actively seeking to mislead, it is all the more important that we all support the highest standards of journalistic integrity. Words matter. What you write and what you say on the air matters. They can incite violence if they’re twisted. They can expose lies and tell the truth if they’re useful. I think you have a responsibility as journalists not to fall prey to disinformation, not to allow propaganda to create the impression that there is no truth. I spent 37 years as a journalist, many of those years as an investigative reporter in the United States and overseas. There is a truth. Every story has a truth. Sometimes you can’t find it, but your job and my job then always was to do my very best to find the truth and then to communicate it. That’s still the goal today I think for all of you sitting in this room.

Truth exists, and as journalists you need to find it and you need to communicate it. Democracy only thrives when there’s an open, free flow of information. And all of these attempts that we see in so many countries to shut it down – to shut down the free flow of information, to cripple freedom of expression – is a demonstration not of strength but an admission of weakness.

I’d like to make one more quick comment about the U.S. ranking in this year’s Freedom House indeed. We fell another point. I think largely this was due to the detentions, harassment and mistreatment of journalists by police in Ferguson, Missouri, during the protests. Those actions were unfortunate. They’re not the way journalists should be treated anywhere, and certainly not in the United States. The United States Government aims to set the gold standard for what it means to uphold our First Amendment and to uphold the universal value of freedom of expression. In this instance in Ferguson, we failed. I trust that we’ll do better, and we’re certainly working to do better at the State Department.

I want to thank Freedom House for their work on this annual report. It’s a very important marker for all of us. We pay attention to it. We use it as a guide in our relations with other countries, and I hope that by increasing the profile of freedom of expression within the State Department and our posts around the world in the coming year, we’ll be able to rely more heavily on the Freedom House report.

So now I’d like to welcome Vanessa Tucker, Freedom House’s vice president for analysis, to the podium. Oh, we don’t have a podium.

MS TUCKER: That’s okay.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: To the chair. (Laughter.)

MS TUCKER: Thank you. Thank you so much, and thank you so much for hosting us here today. It’s a real pleasure to be able to meet with all of you and to talk to you about our findings. Unfortunately, our findings this year are pretty bleak. 2014 was a particularly bad year for press freedom. We all know that it was a year where there were a number of high-profile and brutal murders of journalists. But one thing that our report found and that the cover that you can see up here illustrates is that journalists are facing pressure from all sides. They’re facing pressure from governments – some democratic but many otherwise – governments that are trying to control coverage to clamp down on political content, to clamp down on opposition that’s expressed through the media. They’re facing restrictions from non-state actors, from terrorist groups, from criminal gangs who are hoping to shape coverage so that people do not see just how brutal and terrible these organizations are. And they’re also facing pressure from media owners who are using their financial leverage to shape coverage to reflect their own political and – political and economic interests. So we really see that this is coming from all sides.

It is incumbent upon the United States and upon other democracies to set a positive example because freedom of the press is a pillar of democracy and not a threat to it. And we see that the next few years are going to be a real point of challenge for democracies that are seeking to deal with some of these threats, seeking to deal with questions of national security and terrorist attacks, and how do you respond to those while protecting freedom of information. And that’s one area that we’ve tried very hard to highlight this year, and we’ll continue to do so, but it’s important that all of those solutions don’t put political expediency over long-term, sustainable solutions that focus on open debate.

And I’m going to turn to my colleague now, Jennifer Dunham, who manages the freedom of the press report, and she can tell you a little bit more about our findings.

MS DUNHAM: (Inaudible.) Thank you, everyone, for being here. Vanessa covered a little bit of the main themes of our report, so I’ll just quickly go through some of the more detailed information and then open everything up for questions.

So as you can see by this graph, the global average score for press freedom has declined precipitously in the past decade with a brief improvement in 2011 due to the immediate aftermath of the Arab Spring. And also one thing that was troubling in this past year is that the score suffered its steepest decline since 2005. Looking at these findings in terms of population, we see that only 14 percent of the world’s inhabitants, or one in seven people, live in countries that have a free press, and that the percentage of those living in a free media environment remained at its lowest level since 1996.

Okay. So one thing we wanted to highlight this year were the countries that suffered really significant declines, which you’ll see occurred in a range of settings, ranging from more authoritarian countries to some countries that are more open environments or considered democracies. And we identify four major factors for this. One was the increased use of anti-terror or national security laws against the media. The second was really the inability of reporters to report freely from certain countries or regions either due to high levels of conflict or insecurity, targeted attacks or killings of media workers, and efforts by governments or non-state actors to restrict journalists’ movements. And also we identified increased attacks on journalists while attempting to cover protests. And this occurred in countries ranging from Hong Kong, Brazil, Venezuela, and even the United States.

So moving on, we also looked at a larger date range and kind of tried to identify some trends in – over the past five years in terms of countries that have made the largest improvements and the largest – and suffered the largest declines. So one of the most interesting findings was that most of the substantial declines in the past five years have come in a range of – again, a range of politically significant countries. And these coincided in a broader context with either movements towards authoritarianism or backsliding in democratic settings. And some of these countries that suffered the major declines might seem surprising to some of you. For instance, Greece’s score declined – suffered the greatest decline in the world in the past five years, largely due to the effects of the economic crisis and related political pressures on the media.

And I will just leave this slide up here to kind of maybe prompt a conversation or see if any of you have questions about these countries or anything else that is contained in the report and open things up to questions.

MODERATOR: Before we move into the question-and-answer period, I just would like to ask – we are transcribing this, so please wait for the microphone. If you could identify yourself by name and outlet before you pose your question, that would be much appreciated. If you have a question for a specific briefer, please do direct it to that individual, or you can leave it open and they can decide who’s going to provide the response. Our colleagues in New York, if you have a question, please do approach the podium and we’ll call in due order. Thank you.

We’ll start here in the front row.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Gustau Alegret, NTN24. I have one question (inaudible), but what is the general opinion about Latin American countries? What is the – how did the evolution last year, and particularly (inaudible)? Are you worried about Venezuela particularly, and if so – and I assume yes – why? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: You want to talk about the general trend?

MS DUNHAM: Yeah, sure. I mean, in the general trend in Latin America (inaudible) we saw declines in every region of the world except for sub-Saharan Africa. So yes, we did see a decline in Latin America for several reasons. In South America we saw declines in, for example, Venezuela, but also Ecuador and Argentina due to – I think we saw a pattern of increased hostile rhetoric towards the press by the leaders of those countries.

For instance, the “cadenas” that you see on TV from President Correa in Ecuador and also in Argentina. And in Venezuela, we also registered a decline in that country due to attacks on journalists during the protests, and also issues regarding ownership changes. For example, there are three media outlets in the past couple years that changed hands where the new owners are closely affiliated with the government, and that led to changes in the editorial line and the departure of several prominent reporters. And so that really decreases the availability of critical or independent views at those papers.

So the environment is really just becoming less pluralistic, more restrictive in many different ways. And also we just saw the impact of the economic situation on the media environment – shortages of newsprint, outlets closing, things like that. So there are a lot of negatives in Venezuela in particular.

And then in Central America we really saw the effects of violence against journalists, especially in Mexico and Honduras. So a couple different trends in Latin America.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: I don’t have very much to add. I don’t want to single out any countries. I mean, the entire trend is very troubling. And what we’ve seen over the past decade is a rise in democracy across Latin America, but certainly the last year and the last couple of years in Venezuela, in Mexico, in Ecuador, in some other countries have brought new threats to journalists. And it’s something that we – that’s part of our dialogue with all of those countries. So we’d just like to see this region get back on a better track in terms of the way it treats its journalists.

MODERATOR: We’ll go here to the second row, and then I’ll go to New York.

QUESTION: Yusif Babanli with Azerbaijan State Information Agency. (Laughter.) I’m looking at Doug. First of all, thank you for your great work. Secondly, my question is about criticism that you get from – understandably from countries that you declared as not free. One of the points in the criticism is that I understand your Freedom of the Press report originated in 1980s. That’s after 200 years of your history and after you resolved all the civil movement issues, other types of issues, and it kind of sounds like hazing in the military when a person joins the army, establishes himself as a good soldier, and then just picks on the newly-coming, newly-arriving weaker kids. So that’s one of the things I wanted to mention.

And secondly, there are cases – Jennifer mentioned the anti-terror and state security laws. In the United States history, there was a law that severely restricted freedom of expression – case in point, the Smith Act, or formally known as the Alien Registration Act, which under the provisions of this law dozens were imprisoned, including journalists and including anyone who propagated, say, communism or Nazi ideology, and it extended to the 1950s. And finally, the question is: We had a time machine and you went back to 1950s, how would you rank the United States? Thank you.

MS TUCKER: So thank you for your question. I think it’s really important to be very clear about the independence of Freedom House. You say – we go back – the history of the United States goes back quite a bit, but Freedom House and this report – Freedom House was founded in 1941 and we take great pride in the independence of our research. This report, Freedom of the Press, and our other global report, Freedom in the World, take no government funding at all. We are funded completely with private sources of income – contributions from private foundations and individuals. So the research that we produce is completely independent from any government, the United States or otherwise.

So as far as our analysis of the United States, we have been very clear time and again every single year with the violations of press freedom right here in the United States. And I think the fact that we are here in this office expressing those is evidence of the fact that the ability to criticize the United States Government when it violates press freedom or steps – falls a little bit short of its ideals is itself a demonstration of the fact that we can express criticism here. You can look – it’s in the booklet there and available on our website all of the ways in which we’ve identified places where the United States should improve its own system.

Having said that, though, I think that there’s sometimes a false equivalency of – the fact, like I said, that we can have this conversation shows that there are a number of centers of power in the United States and a number of ways in which you can point to the ideals and point to the ideals and point to the laws and use those in order to improve the system. And that’s not always the case in many of the – it’s – frankly in most of the countries that are categorized as “not free,” it’s very rarely the case that you can rely on the judicial system or rely on politicians or anyone else to protect those freedoms.

So I would say both that we’ve been – every single country gets the same level of scrutiny, and I think we’ve been very clear about the violations that we see in every country in the world.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll go to New York for a question now, please.

QUESTION: This is Mushfiqul Fazal. I’m from Bangladesh. I’m editor of the news agency, justnewsbd.com. I am delighted to be here, particularly in front of Frantz, Douglas. He had a colorful career in the journalistic arena. And thank you for this briefing, and thanks to Vanessa Tucker and Jennifer Dunham.

And I want to draw your attention on Bangladesh. Bangladesh is – the media and the freedom of expression is very much controlled by the ruling authority. And now I am talking here at the – at least two – numbers of journalist are in prison now, including two CEO of TV channel, one editor of a national daily, and reporters. And just yesterday, the majority city polls was held in Dhaka and Chittagong. At least 20 journalist beaten up by extremely, and journalists came under attack while covering city polls in Bangladesh.

So these thing are happening in Bangladesh. And personally, me, I am also facing harassment too. Just I am covering this from New York, United Nations and the Foreign Press Center. So I’m raising questions on Bangladesh issues to restoring democracy in Bangladesh. That’s why, unfortunately, my news portal also blocked from Bangladesh, but outside the country everyone can see.

So what is your comment in this Press Freedom Day on Bangladesh, what is happening now, currently? Thank you very much.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Let me respond briefly, first by thanking you for your work, especially journalists who work in countries or for publications and outlets in countries that are repressive toward the press. It’s brave and important work, and I admire you for continuing to do it. But the general principles that the three of us have spoken about certainly apply to Bangladesh.

Democracies are aspirational in some ways, and I know as a government official that sometimes I see stories in the press that make me unhappy; stories in the press that I feel are inaccurate; stories in the press that sometimes are damaging to U.S. national security interests. But the response of this country and the response of any democracy should not be to go after the messenger; should not be to turn journalism into a crime. We’ve had some criticism of the Obama Administration. Before I took this job two years ago, I was the national security editor of The Washington Post. And that was – I saw then that the Obama Administration was a difficult Administration for reporters to cover, and I’ve worked in Washington as a reporter for a long time.

And part of what I’m trying to do – one of the reasons I joined the State Department was to open it up a little bit and explain the necessity of having an interaction with the press, and most of the time it works very well. But it’s very difficult because government officials are protective of their reputations, of their programs, of their secrecies. Sometimes there’s a need for secrecy, but too often, particularly in younger countries, where the freedom of expression is not as entrenched as it is here, it’s easy to go way too far. And I think we’ve seen those kinds of examples in too many places over the past year especially.

MS TUCKER: Sure. So specifically on Bangladesh’s performance this year, the score did not change but we noticed a few troubling trends, particularly a more politicized judiciary. I mean cases against journalist David Bergman is one of those cases that we drew attention to. Some of the violations that you mention in your question I believe happened in 2015, and that’s certainly something that we will be taking into consideration of in our findings for next year. It doesn’t sound like things are going in a very positive direction.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Another question here, I think the fourth row.

QUESTION: Michael Hernandez, Anadolu Agency. My question pertains to Ukraine. And the country improved from not free to partly free. I’m just wondering how that assessment was made. I understand that the rationale here is improvements in government policy, but how that assessment was made given increased barriers particularly in Crimea, Luhansk, and Donetsk. Was the entirety of the country, as most of the international community and the U.S. understands it, taken into consideration, or was that separated out?

MS DUNHAM: Well, actually, we separated out Crimea and we have a separate report, actually, on Crimea this year. So we didn’t include the conditions in Crimea in the Ukraine report, while we – but we did include the conditions in the eastern Ukraine in the report.

So to answer your question, the – while the overall changes in the legal and political environment did improve – result in improvements in Ukraine’s score, the issues that are going on in the east, especially the high levels of violence against journalists and the difficult (inaudible) there accessing unbiased information did result in some negative movements in the score. So taken altogether, it resulted in a net improvement in Ukraine’s score, but there are still issues which we noted in our country report which is on our website for Ukraine. There are still issues in Ukraine’s media environment (inaudible).

MODERATOR: New York, if you have a question?

QUESTION: Thank you very much for giving me opportunities, Foreign Press Center. I ask to my question Vanessa at Freedom House. Actually, Mr. Mushfiqul Fazal Ansari, who told about the matter of Bangladesh, actually I am a Bangladeshi journalist come from – last year here from Bangladesh. I represent report24.com as well as I working as a freelancer in community media in New York.

So actually, the reason is about myself I want to express you. When I work in Bangladesh, I was injured six time as my professional work in between 2006 (inaudible) October and after then I was injured 2010 (inaudible) in 2010 and (inaudible) me and (inaudible) me 2013, (inaudible) shutting down is my channel, (inaudible) television I was working at that time. I was like (inaudible) from the (inaudible) press corps.

And the reason that I want to ask you, I cover also the 5th January election in Bangladesh. And so that time when I took the fixer and when I took the – take fixer and actually, I want to say the police unfair and I take the fixer, then some political party worker beat me and hit me and snatched my camera. So everything is going – happened – very violent. Right now in (inaudible), every last city election.

So what is the reason Freedom House – and Vanessa, I ask from – about Bangladesh, about Bangladeshi journalists are injured, that – Mushfiqul Fazal Ansari who told about you. Actually, I am a (inaudible) journalist there, so I ask you. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Back to Bangladesh and questions about Bangladesh. I think we might have touched on that. I don’t know if you have anything to add to your previous statement.

MS TUCKER: Sure, just Bangladesh is about six points away from – six to seven points away from moving into the not free category. So certainly, a lot of the violations that are being mentioned – if those are expanded, if that continues, then it’s certainly in a place that is at risk of going into not free.

MODERATOR: Great, thank you. Another question here in front.

QUESTION: Thank you. (Inaudible) Kathimerini. Again, Katerina Sokou with Greek daily Kathimerini. Thank you for your presentation. My question is referring to Greece, obviously. As you mentioned yourself, it’s surprising the range of decline that you’ve seen in democratic country. And you also mentioned the economic – the effects of the economic crisis to that effect. Could you specify on what way has the effects of the economic crisis affected Greece? And do you – Mr. Frantz from the State Department also – do you think that this suggests a further, wider decline in the democratic qualities of the country? Thank you.

MS TUCKER: Okay. So I think when the economic crisis hit, we really saw that kind of existing structural problems in the media environment were exacerbated by the crisis, and also related political pressures on what the government wanted the media to say about the debate over the austerity policies. So we saw that there were a lot of kind of hidden relationships between the government and media owners, and once the economy weakened and the media – the subsidies from or the revenue from advertising wasn’t coming in as much, that the weakness of the media sector really was laid out. And this resulted in a lot of outlets closing, a lot of people losing their jobs. There was the issue of the closure of the state broadcaster – of ERT last year, and then the reopening this past year of the new state broadcaster. And there’s been a lot of accusations that it’s – there’s bias at the new state broadcaster, which allegedly was the problem at the old state broadcaster, but it seems like there’s similar problems, at least from what we’ve heard in our – from our analysts. There’s similar problems at the new state broadcaster.

So we’ve also – we’ve seen that; we’ve seen political pressure on content, both at the state broadcaster and on private outlets – pressure through advertising. The government selectively advertises in friendly outlets. We’ve also seen kind of problems with licensing. There’s been a hold up in the issuance of new broadcast licenses, and also, I think, just an increase in legal cases against journalists. I think the most obvious one was the Vaxevanis case, and he just had a new case filed against him. But there’ve been other cases like that. So it’s just kind of been a confluence of issues that really started to rise up when the economic crisis hit and there was all sorts of turbulence in the political environment.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: I would just add that the Greek people and Greece itself are going through the most difficult imaginable period, and I think that the restrictions on the press and the problems for the free press are a temporary aberration. We don’t see this as an endemic problem. To say that democracy has deep roots in Greece is the ultimate understatement, so I don’t think that we have grave concerns. We’re worried any place in the world where there are restrictions on freedom of expression, but I think that Greece will come through this.

MODERATOR: We have a question back here again, and then we’ll go to New York.

QUESTION: My name Abdurragip Soylu with Sabah. I have a couple of questions, actually. The first one is —

MODERATOR: We have a couple of brief questions because we’re out of time.

QUESTION: Okay. The conclusion is that the Turkish media or Turkish press is not free, but every year, whenever Freedom Houses publishes such a report, it’s widely discussed and published on Turkish media and TV channels. So every time whenever this issue comes up – and in Turkey most of the journalists think that there should be some problem with this report, because it says it’s not free, but it’s already published, discussed in Turkey.

And the second question is that the top criticism for Turkey for the last years is that arrested journalists, and Turkey released dozens of journalists last year, and I didn’t see this on the report. And there are criticisms from the government part that there is absence of exchange of views with the government or government officials about the issues that raised in your report.

And the third one is an American journalist, Barrett Brown, was arrested I think a few months ago but sentenced this January. And did you include this in your report as well about United States?

MS TUCKER: (Inaudible.) Sure. So first of all, I would say – there are a few parts to your question. Let me go back. The questions about the particular – the arrests of the journalists, is that included – we don’t just look at arrests. We look at a number of ways in which political influence is clear in restrictions on freedom of the press. So whereas years ago in Turkey we saw that arrests were a huge problem, later we saw that political firings, shutting down of outlets, targeting – individually targeting and criticizing – in some ways intimidating – journalists, that that – those are also areas of concern that we’ve seen an uptick in recent years. So to say that there have been some improvements in some areas that – we reflect where journalists are released, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the press freedom situation has improved considerably.

As far as coverage of our Turkey findings within the country goes, I’m – we’re consistently very happy to see that that’s something that’s being discussed, but we’ve also found that I think in many cases those findings are misrepresented, and we ourselves have been subject to slanderous attacks from people who find that – who disagree with this. So I would – certainly a part – that that’s part of a vibrant debate is a very positive issue.

The particular case you mentioned was considered. Our analysis of the United States is robust. We – that was considered in the score this year. The sentencing you mentioned in January will be reflected in next year’s report. Just like I said earlier, we shine a – the light of our methodology, all the different questions. We look at those for every single country in the world, and they all get the same level of scrutiny.

MODERATOR: We’ll go to New York for a question.

QUESTION: Hi, my name is Federico Bardier from Uruguay media. You talked about very troubling numbers and tendencies that you saw in this report. There’s been a tendency in decreasing media freedom for the last 10 years, for – so does this come as a surprise to you? And why do you see this tendency worldwide?

MS TUCKER: Could you repeat the beginning of your question? I’m sorry, it was – I couldn’t hear.

QUESTION: No problem. Because you talked about, like, in the beginning of this conference about some worrying or troubling tendencies worldwide in – but this has been happening for 10 years or more now. And does this come as a surprise – like, this year’s tendencies? And why do you see this – why do you think this has been happening worldwide for a long time now?

MS TUCKER: So it has – we have noted a long-running decline, a 10-year decline. What is surprising is not necessarily that it’s continuing, but that the pace of the decline is also continuing, and that’s certainly troubling.

I think that a big part of this that is surprising to many people in our audience is that the expansion of the internet, of internet access, of social media, and all the tools of technology – a lot of people thought that that would mean the press freedom censorship would be a thing of the past. What we’ve seen in this report, really across the board, is that all those pieces of technology – they’re tools for the expansion of press freedom, but they can also be used as tools to restrict press freedom. So just as an individual can take a picture of an act of corruption or the attack of a police officer on a civilian and circulate that around the world, so can a government or criminal group or media owner use technology in order to restrict expression.

So we’ve also seen a real expansion of propaganda in the sort of – editing or doctoring images in order to completely fabricate a situation to present a conflict in a different light. We – so it works both ways, and I think that that’s the biggest piece – that’s the biggest surprise in these findings, is that despite this expansion of technology, we’re still seeing these restrictions, and in many cases, they’re getting worse.

MODERATOR: I think we only have time for one more question. I’m going to go to the back.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Lauri Tankler. I’m with the Estonian Public Broadcasting Television Radio News. But I don’t really have a question about Estonia. I have a question about censorship and a Russian propaganda question. The question is basically a little bit hypothetical because there’s been a couple of voices here and there in the Western world and in Europe talking about shutting down propaganda channels, under which they also include RT Television and maybe some other news agencies. There’s been in – also in New York, there’s – there was a Russian info channel named as working with Russian potential agents, and I think on some form of – on some level of government, the Canadians have been talking about restricting access for RT to broadcast.

So at one – on one side, RT comes from a government which has a not-free press. On the other hand, would shutting them down or not letting them access in Western (inaudible), would that hinder press freedom in other countries?

So I would like to ask, first of all – also politically, how does the United States see these sorts of outlets? Are they propaganda, are they news, are they – should they fall under the press freedom category? And on a technical level, would this in some way hinder or change the ratings of Western democracies’ press freedom?

MS DUNHAM: I’ll answer the more technical question. We did see instances in our report where – such as Ukraine, Latvia, and Lithuania where they did resort to – they were dealing with propaganda from Russia and they all – they resorted to shutting down or banning Russian language television stations, and that was something that we counted against them in our methodology, so – as a form of censorship. So in terms of the way we look at it, we kind of – we would encourage not censorship of something like that, but rather countering it with unbiased information.

So I think a good example is what Estonia did, was to establish, I think, a Russian language service that kind of tried to counter those sort of – that sort of propaganda with unbiased news and information. So in terms of RT’s influence in the United States, I think it’s not going to incite anything in the United States. It’s another viewpoint, it’s something that people should be able to see and form their own opinions on. I’ll maybe let the assistant secretary answer it from a policy perspective, but from our perspective, absolutely not, it should not be censored.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: I agree with everything that Jennifer said. I had this conversation with some of your colleagues and some of your government officials in Tallinn earlier this month, and I had a similar conversation in Vilnius with Lithuanian officials. And I think Estonia has the right attitude. It has an attitude that the United States Government endorses. And that is that we don’t counter propaganda by shutting off outlets or by producing counterpropaganda. We want to counter propaganda by encouraging people to find the truth; we want to do it by training and helping journalists tell the truth.

And so that’s certainly the method that Estonia and other countries are undertaking; Lithuania not so much. And I had a conversation with people from the ministry of foreign affairs there about their efforts to shut off some Russian cable networks, and I said that’s not really the best way to counter that, because what you do when you do that is you create – you fall into, I think, the Russian trap of “We have our lies, you have your lies. You’re no better than we are.” And I think, in fact, democracies have to be better. Democracies are about the free flow of information. And that free flow depends on both information that we find positive and information that we find negative; reporters we find pleasant, reporters we find obnoxious. There’s room for all of them. They all exist and there’s room for all of them, because a democracy doesn’t shut down the freedom of expression for anybody.

MODERATOR: I think that’s a really good point for us to end on. I want to thank our briefers for coming today. Thank you very much. And I also would like to thank our journalists for coming here and also thank you for the work you do. It is extremely important. And with that, the briefing is closed and we are now off the record. Thank you.

   

Related Posts