WASHINGTON, D.C. (TIP): A vibrant independent press is a cornerstone for any healthy democracy, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, observing that the exercise of freedom of expression, including freedom of the press, is facing profound threats in the current time. Addressing a news conference at the Washington Foreign Press Centre on Tuesday, May 3, his first appearance at the center in more than two years, Blinken said that around the world, governments, as well as non-state actors like terrorist groups and criminal organizations, threaten, harass, imprison, and attack journalists every week.
“Governments are supplementing traditional forms of repression with new tactics aimed at undermining press freedom. More governments are taking steps to control access to information – and news in particular – on the internet, whether through shutdowns, slowdowns, or outright censorship,” he said. These restrictions make it harder for reporting from inside closed areas to get out, and news from the outside to get in, he rued.
Asserting that technology is being used not only to block journalists but to watch them, Blinken said from 2020 to 2021, (the mobile phones of) more than 30 reporters, editors and other media employees in El Salvador were hacked using the spyware Pegasus, according to an independent investigation. “Last year, the Biden administration placed the foreign company that produces Pegasus – the NSO Group – on the Entity List, forbidding it from receiving US exports, including technologies, and seriously affecting its operations,” he said.
Whether these attacks on journalists are made using old methods or new ones, the overwhelming majority of crimes against journalists worldwide are carried out with impunity. This sends a clear message to perpetrators that they can keep targeting the press without consequences, he asserted.
In an interaction with a group of foreign journalists, Blinken said the United States has a vital stake in promoting the right to freedom of expression, including a free press, at home and also around the world. The free flow of information, ideas and opinions, including dissenting ones, is essential to inclusive and tolerant societies, he said.
“A vibrant independent press is a cornerstone for any healthy democracy. At its core is the idea that information is a public good, crucial to everything we do, to every decision that we make.
“And often we trust the press with providing that information. It’s what helps citizens understand the events, the forces that are shaping their lives. It allows people to engage meaningfully in the political and civic spheres of their communities, their nations, and the world,” he added.
The top American diplomat further said a free press is one of the most effective tools for advancing human rights.
“Whether it’s documenting unjust working conditions, corrupt or failing public services, discrimination against women and marginalized groups, abuse of security forces, accurate reporting shines a bright light on the parts of our societies that need fixing, that need to be illuminated. That brings pressure to change, to form, as we say in the United States, a more perfect union,” Blinken said.