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Schatz, Young Introduce New Legislation To Protect Journalists, Promote Press Freedom Around The World

Bill Creates New Ambassador For Press Freedom At State Department

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Todd Young (R-Ind.), both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced today the introduction of new legislation to promote press freedom and the protection of journalists worldwide. The Global Press Freedom Act would direct the U.S. State Department to establish an Ambassador-at-Large for press freedom and train Foreign Service Officers on how to help promote media independence and protect foreign journalists.

“Our democracy depends on the ability of journalists to ask tough questions, dig for the truth, and report what they find — without fear of violence or persecution. Freedom of the press is a priority in our founding documents, so it must be a cornerstone of our foreign policy,” said Senator Schatz, who recently joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Our new bill reasserts our commitment to a free press at home and abroad, empowering the State Department to engage with these issues diplomatically on the world stage.”

“Freedom of the press is essential to democracy, good governance, and holding those in power accountable. This principle was enshrined in our founding documents for that reason. Because our values do not stop at our border, I am proud of this new proposal that will empower our diplomats to support a free press around the globe,” said Senator Young.

Despite its inclusion in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, press freedom has faced a staggering global decline in recent years. According to Reporters Without Borders’ 2020 World Press Freedom Index, 74 percent of nations have situations that are “problematic,” “difficult,” or “very serious” for media independence and reporter safety, while 32 journalists were murdered for their work just in the last year. Reporters Without Borders’ global indicator, as measured by constraints and violations of press freedom, has decreased 12 percentage points since its creation in 2013. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated this trend, with authoritarian regimes implementing emergency laws that further degrade press freedom.

The Global Press Freedom Act aims to institutionalize America’s commitment to advancing press freedom abroad. This legislation would create an Ambassador-at-Large for press freedom, who would be tasked with engaging with foreign governments and organizations, draw attention to violations of press freedom and reporter safety, and ensure each country’s Country Report on Human Rights Practices includes a “Free Expression” section. The bill would also establish a press freedom curriculum in the training of Foreign Service Officers, empowering them to assist in the protection of journalists and press freedom while stationed overseas.

Organizations supporting this bill include: PEN America, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Freedom House. Reporters Without Borders also submitted a letter of support for the bill.

“Senator Schatz’s initiative is an important step forward in reaffirming our nation’s commitment to a global free press -- a fundamental safeguard and building block of any democracy,” said Thomas O. Melia, Director of PEN America’s Washington D.C. office. “The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated an already disturbing trend of assaults by too many governments on journalists and free expression more broadly. The bill, when enacted, will not only bring these injustices to light, but will serve as a global accountability measure to ensure our continued support for journalists, reporters, and the broader news and media community. Heightened efforts by the State Department to address these challenges could come at no better time--and PEN America wholeheartedly supports Senator Schatz’s efforts to reinvigorate America’s role as a defender of the free press worldwide.”

“Freedom House is proud to support the Global Press Freedom Act. Press freedom is foundational to the democratic process and the United States should be at the forefront of promoting press freedom and the freedom of expression worldwide," said Annie Boyajian, Director of Advocacy at Freedom House. “Appointing an Ambassador-at-Large for Press Freedom would bring needed visibility to the issue and provide a focal point for this important work at the Department of State. Furthermore, by providing training on press freedom, this legislation would enable our Foreign Service Officers to better promote and defend press freedom, especially in environments where journalists are at risk and freedom of expression is being undermined.”

“We applaud Senators Schatz and Young for introducing this critical bipartisan legislation, which will bolster State Department support for freedom of the press and help determine whether the Department has lived up to its legal requirement to report on attacks on the media," said Michael De Dora, Washington Advocacy Manager at the Committee to Protect Journalists. "The ability of journalists to work freely and safely is essential to democracy and human rights. Given the severity of threats to journalists worldwide, and the importance of U.S. leadership on press freedom, Congress should quickly give this measure due attention.”

To see the full text of the bill, click here.