11.02.19

Statement on International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists

Nearly one year ago, speaking about the dangers facing journalists who are harassed, threatened, and killed for simply doing their job, I said I was more concerned than ever before about the state of press freedom around the world, including in our own country.  You can read that statement here.

As we commemorate International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on November 2nd, while reflecting on the hundreds of journalists who have been killed in retaliation for their work, I feel the same way today.

In 2019 alone, the Committee to Protect Journalists has recorded 35 cases of journalists killed by crossfire, murdered for their reporting, or whose deaths very well may be, though have not yet been officially, linked to their work.  Impunity for these murders, including high profile executions of journalists like Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi authorities last year, remains the status quo in most countries.  Roughly nine of every ten killings of journalists go unpunished each year.

As the son of parents who owned a weekly newspaper and a printing business, I have long believed that the protection and promotion of our First Amendment rights is one of our most fundamental responsibilities as Americans.  But these are not just rights enshrined in our Constitution, they are universal rights, and freedom of expression, especially freedom of the press, is the cornerstone of any functioning democracy. 

So it is particularly troubling to witness the trend of democratically-elected leaders turned despots and wannabe strongmen playing a major role in the global assault on press freedom.  Rodrigo Duterte, Fatah el-Sisi, Viktor Orban, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and a growing list of others all demonstrate that the decline of democratic governance and the intimidation, coercion, and threats of violence against journalists and the media go hand-in-hand. 

Of course, our own President’s daily onslaught against journalists emboldens these autocrats around the world to clamp down on dissent, and weakens our government’s efforts to speak out against such abuses.  We should be appalled by President Trump’s continued effort to try to intimidate his critics into silence or into writing laudatory stories about him, which makes a mockery of an independent press. 

We all have a responsibility to stand up for press freedom and to combat impunity for crimes against journalists, in our own country and around the world.

That is why I worked with Senator Graham to continue our efforts to defend press freedom in the Senate version of the fiscal year 2020 appropriations bill for the Department of State and foreign operations, which was reported unanimously by the Appropriations Committee on September 26, 2019.  The bill includes not less than $23 million to support and protect journalists and civil society activists who have been threatened, harassed, or attacked; not less than $10 million to promote and defend freedom of expression and the independence of the media abroad, including by countering legal and other means to restrict access to public information; and $2.5 million for the staff needed to design and manage those programs.

It is a good start, but much more needs to be done.  I hope the House Appropriations Committee will work with us to ensure this funding is enacted into a law.  I hope the Secretary of State and our ambassadors posted overseas will counter the President’s vitriolic attacks against the press.  And I urge everyone to strive toward ending this scourge of impunity for crimes against journalists in the coming year.    

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