May 3rd is World Press Freedom Day, a day established to bring attention to the threats faced by journalists around the world and the crucial role of a free press in a democratic society. Rarely has the freedom of the press been under more direct and daily threat around the world. Powerful state and non-state actors use intimidation, imprisonment, and even murder to silence journalists.
Journalists risk their lives to expose human rights violations, corruption, and other matters that are crucial for the world to witness. Today, as we celebrate World Press Freedom Day, I honor the courageous work of American journalist Austin Tice captured in Syria; Crimean journalist Mykola Semena, on trial today for “separatism” for criticizing Moscow’s illegal annexation of the Crimea; and Ahmed Abba, convicted in a Cameroonian military court on “terrorism charges” for reporting on the plight of those suffering at the hands of Boko Haram.
Promoting and protecting a free press is a value shared across the aisle. The Congressional Caucus for Freedom of the Press was founded eleven years ago by myself and a then-Congressman named Mike Pence. I am pleased today to announce the relaunch of the Caucus with co-chair Steve Chabot, my Republican colleague from Ohio, and our commitment to advocate for the crucial role of a free press around the world in promoting democratic values and fighting corruption.
The Committee to Protect Journalists found that 48 journalists were killed in 2016 around the world. Freedom House reported that global press freedom declined to its lowest point in 13 years due to unprecedented threats to journalists and media outlets in major democracies, intensified crackdowns by authoritarian states, and disinformation campaigns waged by Russia to undermine Western democratic states and values.
Journalists are under the greatest threat when governments or violent non-state actors believe they can target them with impunity, and that no one will come to their aid. The Caucus is one attempt to help meet that challenge by calling attention to governments who threaten or imprison journalists, or allow their murder to go unpunished.
The threat to journalists comes not just from governments seeking to silence dissent, but also from taking risks to tell stories that need to be told. Six years after the start of its bloody civil war, Syria is still the world’s deadliest country for journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders. In August 2012, Austin Tice was freelancing for the Washington Post when he was taken captive near Damascus. He is the last American journalist still detained abroad. We must do everything possible to bring him safely home.
Today, as we recognize World Press Freedom Day, I look forward to working with my colleagues to prioritize international press freedom issues in the 115th Congress. A thriving marketplace of ideas, with reporters asking hard questions, is central to a free society. Wherever journalists face prison or worse because they dare to question power, I hope they will know they have an ally in the Freedom of the Press Caucus, and the United States of America.