05.01.09

Free Press A Cornerstone Of Democracy

The Senate Thursday night unanimously adopted a resolution commemorating World Press Freedom Day, which will be celebrated around the world on Sunday, May 3.  Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) cosponsored the bipartisan resolution commemorating and honoring the principles of expression.

Leahy is a longtime open government leader, and has supported enactment of a federal shield law.  As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Leahy has scheduled Committee consideration of the Free Flow of Information Act, which would establish a qualified privilege for journalists to protect the confidentiality of their sources.  The House of Representatives passed shield legislation earlier this year, and the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to consider the legislation in the coming weeks.

“As we celebrate World Press Freedom Day, we are reminded that an open and accountable society comes with the duty of its citizens to seek out the truth and to empower themselves with that knowledge.  All of us – whether Republican, Democrat or Independent – have an interest in preserving press freedoms and protecting the public’s right to know.”

The resolution adopted by the Senate Thursday celebrates the fundamental right of freedom of the press, commends journalists around the world for their work holding government accountable and strengthening civil society and pays tribute to those journalists who lost their lives in the line of duty. The resolution also condemns actions around the world to suppress the freedom of the press and calls for the U.S. government to develop a system to more rapidly identify, publicize and respond to threats against press freedom worldwide.


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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,

Commemorating World Press Freedom Day 2009

April 30, 2009

MR. PRESIDENT.  On May 3, people from across the country and around the world will celebrate World Press Freedom Day – a time to commemorate and honor the principles of freedom of expression.  Established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993, World Press Freedom Day provides an important opportunity for us all to remember the journalists and other members of the news media – of all nationalities – who have sacrificed their personal safety, and in some cases their lives, to ensure the free flow of information to the public.

Charles Caleb Colton said that “Despotism can no more exist in a nation until the liberty of the press be destroyed, than night can happen before the sun is set.”  According to the International Federation of Journalists, at least 109 journalists and other members of the media have been killed in the line of duty during 2008.  Countless others have been arrested and/or detained simply for performing their professional duties.  Our Founders prized and protected freedom of the press in our national charter, the Constitution.  Courageous American journalists have documented volatile turning points in our history – and the world’s history – and some have suffered or even died for their efforts, beginning with America’s first martyr to press freedom, Elijah Lovejoy.

Recently, we witnessed the troubling case of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, who was arrested by Iranian authorities in January for buying a bottle of wine and was later tried behind closed doors and detained on absurd and unfounded charges of espionage.  Two other American journalists – Laura Ling and Euna Lee – were detained by North Korean officials last month, while working on a story about the plight of female Chinese refuges living along the Chinese border.  These troubling events are just two examples of the growing threat facing journalists around the world.

Preserving press freedoms and freedom of expression is one of my highest priorities as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee.  That is why I am pleased to join Senators Feingold, Kaufman and Lugar in cosponsoring a resolution in honor of World Press Freedom Day

Next week, the Judiciary Committee will consider legislation that I introduced and that is cosponsored by Senators Kennedy, Specter, Feingold, Whitehouse, McCaskill and Tester to roll back the government’s excessive use of the state secrets privilege to shield government information.  The State Secrets Protection Act, S. 417, will help guide the Federal courts to balance the government’s legitimate interests in protecting national security, with accountability and the rights of citizens to obtain government information and seek judicial redress. 

The Committee also has on its agenda long-overdue legislation to establish a qualified privilege for journalists to protect the confidentiality of their sources and the public’s right to know – the Free Flow of Information Act, S. 448 and HR 985.   Last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee favorably reported a similar measure that I cosponsored with Senators Lugar, Dodd, Specter, Schumer, and Graham, with a strong, bipartisan 15 to 4 vote. 

I am very pleased that President Obama has stated his support of Federal shield legislation, and that Attorney General Eric Holder has also expressed his support of a carefully crafted federal shield law.  At my request, the Obama administration is working closely with the Committee to help reach consensus on a meaningful Federal shield bill that we can enact this year.


As we celebrate World Press Freedom Day, we are reminded that an open and accountable society comes with the duty of its citizens to seek out the truth and to empower themselves with that knowledge.  All of us – whether Republican, Democrat or Independent – have an interest in preserving press freedoms and protecting the public’s right to know.  Enacting the State Secrets Protection Act and the Free Flow of Information Act will send a powerful signal to the entire world about this Nation’s commitment to freedom of expression.  For this reason, I strongly encourage all Members to join me in supporting the resolution in honor of World Press Freedom Day and in supporting these very important bills.

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Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693