Thank you, Agnes, and thank you for the critically important efforts of Amnesty International around the world. I’d also like to recognize your courageous and rigorous work during your tenure as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, particularly on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
I’m grateful to the Netherlands, and Foreign Minister Knapen, for hosting this event with us, and for stepping up to co-chair the Media Freedom Coalition this coming year. A special thank you as well to our current co-chair, Canada, for its leadership, and to Minister Joly for joining today.
Most importantly, I’d like to recognize the extraordinary work of journalists and media workers around the world. That includes the Nobel Peace Prize laureates participating in this event, Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, and all the journalists watching today. Your reporting plays an indispensable role in informing the public, holding governments accountable, and telling stories that otherwise would not be told. All of which is critical to the health of democracies like ours.
And yet, as we all know, for too many journalists, doing this work means having to endure threats, harassment, and attacks. According to the Committee to Project Journalists, 23 journalists have been killed for their work in 2021, and scores more have been attacked. More than 350 journalists are currently being imprisoned in connection to their work, according to Reporters without Borders.
Of course, these aren’t the only ways press freedom is under assault. Governments are using libel, defamation, and counterterrorism laws to go after reporters who shine a spotlight on corruption and abuse. Last year, nearly 20 countries passed overly broad and vague laws related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which they have used to crack down on journalists under the pretext of combating misinformation. Media websites and journalists’ social media accounts are increasingly blocked, censored, or restricted in outer ways.
And some governments are cutting advertising for independent media outlets that they see as critical, deepening the economic pressures on these publications. As a result, many outlets have shut down, consolidated, or been acquired by government or corporate entities. The number of “news deserts” around the world is growing, depriving citizens of the accurate, trustworthy information they need to participate fully in civic and political life.
Journalists, advocacy organizations, and foundations are doing everything they can to push back, but they can’t do it alone. At the Summit for Democracy this week, we’re asking governments to make concrete commitments to strengthen free, independent media and help tackle the diverse challenges they face.
Today, I’d like to highlight four ways the United States is doing that, among others.
First, we’re increasing protection for the free press at home. In July, the Department of Justice adopted a new policy to stop using subpoenas, warrants, and other investigative powers to obtain notes, work products, or other information from journalists engaged in newsgathering activities.
Second, at the Summit we are announcing significant new investments to support independent media in financial peril. We will make the biggest contribution by any government to the recently launched International Fund for Public Interest Media, an innovative new initiative that provides assistance to at-risk independent news outlets. The fund will be administered not by governments, but by an inclusive group of independent, well-respected journalists, media, and financial experts. In addition, USAID will announce the launch of a Media Viability Accelerator, which will bring together media outlets, business advisory groups, and the private sector to make independent press outlets more sustainable, focusing on data sharing, technical assistance, and financial services. These new efforts will come atop the $236 million dollars President Biden has requested in the 2022 budget to support independent media around the globe – a more than 40% increase on the amount allotted in 2020.
Third, we’re launching a new liability fund to provide financial support for reporters and news organizations that are targeted with litigation as a result of their reporting. These include cases like that of Dayanna Monroy, an investigative journalist I met on a recent visit to Quito. At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ecuador, she helped unearth a scheme by a former president and health officials to sell body bags to public hospitals at 13 times their price. In retaliation, the former President threatened Dayanna’s life and filed a legal complaint against her under a law that protects sensitive data. The fund we’re launching will support journalists like Dayanna as they defend themselves against such baseless legal efforts.
Finally, we will continue to be relentless in shining a spotlight on attacks on journalists and demanding accountability for perpetrators. Because we know one of the most effective ways to prevent future attacks is by sending a clear message that those responsible will be brought to justice. Let me give a few examples of how the United States is doing this right now.
We denounce cases publicly by name and elevate them in our bilateral engagements with other governments. We use targeted sanction to impose costs on perpetrators, including new authorities we’ve conceived and implemented, such as the Khashoggi Ban. We push for greater multilateral pressure through institutions such as the Media Freedom Coalition, which has strongly condemned cases of repression in Belarus, Hong Kong, Burma, and Russia. And we continue to make deep, long-term investments in the rule of law, so local justice officials have the knowledge and capacity to effectively prosecute these crimes.
And while impunity is still the norm in far too many of these cases, we cannot let up, because it’s never too late for justice.
Just last week, a court in Serbia confirmed the conviction of four former security officials for the murder of journalist Slavko Curuvija. Slavko was executed outside his home in Belgrade on April 11, 1999, for daring to criticize the country’s leader at the time, Slobodan Milosevic.
So I want to make crystal clear: the United States will continue to stand up for the brave and necessary work of journalists around the world. And I look forward to hearing the commitments other governments will make in the Summit – not only to ensure justice for past attacks, and to prevent future attacks…but also to shore up the vibrant, independent press our democracies depend on for years to come. Thank you.