On World Press Freedom Day, the United States pays special honor to the importance of media freedom – a crucial element of freedom of expression – at home and abroad. A diverse and independent press is crucial to holding governments accountable and sustaining democracy around the world. The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) at the U.S. Department of State details the state of media freedom around the world in the Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The USAID Media Sustainability Index is an equally important tool in monitoring and reporting on media freedom. The United States continuously works to advance media freedom around the world through bilateral engagement, public diplomacy, programming, and multilateral diplomacy.
Examples of State Department and USAID efforts to promote media freedom include:
DRL supports media programs in over 43 countries around the world that focus on investigative reporting, conflict sensitivity reporting, civic engagement by youth through media, increasing diversity in the media sector, gender-sensitive media programming, and access to independent media in local languages. Examples of initiatives include:
- Promoting women’s voices in the Great Lakes media sector; programs include supporting diversity within the media sector by increasing women’s involvement in journalism, and giving them greater public access to high-quality gender-sensitive media programming, particularly on women’s rights issues.
- In Sri Lanka, a DRL-supported project trains journalists and bloggers in investigative journalism to enable more effective reporting on the reconciliation process, as well as the upcoming parliamentary elections.
- In Mexico, a DRL grant assists journalists from high-risk areas through a two-pronged approach of providing training on digital and physical security and monitoring and responding to elevated threat levels through special alerts and the production of periodic and annual reports that are used in domestic and international awareness-raising efforts.
- DRL’s SAFE Initiative provides state-of-the-art trainings to journalists on physical and digital security and psychosocial care through centers in Central America, Eastern Europe, East Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Between November 2013 and December 2014, SAFE trained 347 media professionals.
- DRL’s Internet Freedom programs have provided tools and trainings to thousands of vulnerable civil society and independent journalists around the world. Since 2008, DRL has invested over $100 million in Internet Freedom programs to promote and protect human rights online. These programs have helped to train over 10,000 at-risk journalists and human rights defenders on digital safety and supported the development and dissemination of anti-censorship and secure communication tools that have helped millions of users access the Internet and stay safe online.
- The State Department’s Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists, sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, has welcomed more than 1,000 rising international journalists to the U.S. since 2006 to examine the essential role of independent media in fostering and protecting freedom of expression and democracy.
- The State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs sponsors the U.S. – Pakistan Professional Partnership Program. Since 2010, 183 Pakistani journalists have spent a month as fellows in media organizations across the United States. Twenty-six American journalists have also traveled to Pakistan to share their expertise under the program.
- The State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) provided public diplomacy programming tools on starting and maintaining a blog and an ethics package promoting credibility and integrity in a digital age, which empower local citizens to share their stories. Share.America.gov features a growing series of pieces on the importance of journalism. IIP’s U.S. Speakers Program recruits U.S. experts to engage foreign audiences on media freedom.
- IIP offers a number of publications on the subject of media freedom, among them:
- The State Department also conducts an annual “Free the Press” campaign in the days leading up to World Press Freedom Day where the Department daily profiles journalists or media outlets who are censored, attacked, threatened, disappeared or otherwise oppressed because of their reporting.
- USAID provides a comprehensive range of support for media freedom around the world, including journalism education, media business development, capacity building for supportive institutions, and strengthening legal-regulatory environments for free media. Currently, USAID supports independent media strengthening programs in over 30 countries, with an approximate annual total budget of $40 million. Examples of these initiatives include:
- Since 2011, USAID’s Internet Freedom programming has worked with hundreds of vulnerable civil society and independent media organizations and bloggers in over a dozen countries to provide them with long-term mentoring, tools, training and techniques to keep themselves and their data safe and resilient online.
- In Ukraine, a local partner organization of the USAID-supported Regional Investigative Journalism Network (RIJN), known more widely as the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), played an active role in securing and making public tens of thousands of sensitive documents that deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his entourage destroyed upon fleeing the presidential compound in early 2014.
- Since January 2014, USAID has promoted media freedom in Ukraine by training Ukrainian media organizations on mobile phone and website security, which has assisted them in keeping their websites online despite increasingly intense cyber-attacks.
- In Afghanistan, USAID support has contributed to the emergence of a national network of nearly 50 Afghan–owned and operated radio stations with millions of listeners across the country. Additionally, USAID seed capital support to the Tolo Television network, a highly popular source of independent news, has allowed Tolo to grow and provide non-state television to over two-thirds of the population.
- USAID/Haiti is supporting a series of seven regional workshops in departments throughout Haiti, in cooperation with the Provisional Electoral Council, training journalists about pertinent laws, ethical codes of conduct and reporting practices to enable more effective communications with the Haitian electorate and more professional media coverage of upcoming elections in 2015.
- A newly-launched program by USAID/Nicaragua will support the development of independent media broadly in several areas, including: strengthened media sector data and audience research, business management support and sustainability planning, training for multi-media reporting objective journalism, legal support, and more gender sensitive and inclusive media reporting.
The U.S. government has also brought media freedom issues to the fore at the United Nations and in regional multilateral forums. For example:
- In 2014, 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.
- The United States condemned violence against journalists and called for their protection, especially as they report on armed conflicts, at a United Nations Security Council debate that we convened on July 17, 2013.
- The United States fully endorsed the 2012 UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.
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