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SPJ calls on Biden administration to advocate for press freedom worldwide


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2/11/2021


CONTACT:
Matthew T. Hall, SPJ National President, 619-987-7786, mhall@spj.org
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Director of Communications and Marketing, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – As the Society of Professional Journalists monitors the transfer of power in the United States, we urge the Biden administration to focus on issues of press freedom in this country and abroad.

We ask the new Biden administration and 117th Congress to respect and advocate for journalists’ need to do our jobs on behalf of the American public, and to serve as an example for vital press freedoms that other nations can embrace.

It is from that perspective that we note with dismay recent actions in Belarus, Hungary, India and Myanmar that threaten press freedom and the independence of journalists worldwide.

We remind the U.S. government that our own Bill of Rights has provided a viable template for the rest of the world, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that we need to stand up for press freedom wherever threatened. We urge the State Department and White House to include protection of press freedom and the safety of journalists to be a part of any discussions with these nations.

“The U.S. must be a staunch supporter of press freedoms for the world to see and to emulate,” said SPJ National President Matthew T. Hall. “The Biden administration can accomplish this in many ways, by appointing ambassadors and others who value and will advocate for press freedoms, by opposing press abuses in other nations and by ending the restrictions on employees in federal offices and agencies speaking with the press, which we wrote to the administration about on Jan. 19.”

SPJ has not yet received a response from the Biden administration.

Belarus

We join with other international journalism organizations in condemning the arrest and trial of Belsat reporters Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova.

While doing live reports in Belarus for the Poland-based news channel Belsat on Nov. 15, 2020, Andreyeva and Chultsova were arrested and charged with coordinating protests against long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko. The demonstrators claimed the August 2020 elections were rigged to favor Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994.

Since November 2020, more than 475 journalists have been arrested, 62 journalists have experienced violence at the hands of government agents and 50 news websites have been blocked. Freedom House rates Belarus as an authoritarian state on a par with Iran and Cuba.

We urge the U.S. State Department to denounce the show trials against journalists in Belarus and issue a statement recommitting the U.S. government to the support of free and independent journalism.

Hungary

SPJ also condemns the Hungarian government for forcing the only independent radio station in Hungary off the air on Sunday. Klubradio lost an appeal against the removal of its license on Tuesday, cutting the ranks of media outlets critical of the country’s nationalist government. The station has broadcast for 19 years and includes political and talk show guests who often criticize government policies.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s growing control over Hungary’s media is concerning. SPJ urges the U.S. government to stress the importance of a free and independent press to the Hungarian government and encourage the renewal of Klubradio’s license.

India

SPJ is shocked at the recent actions by the Indian government to charge journalists with sedition and to shut down the websites of news organizations because of their coverage of demonstrations by farmers against proposed changes in government agricultural policy. We join with the Editors Guild of India in denouncing the actions as attempts “to intimidate, harass, browbeat and stifle the media.”

The move continues in a series of actions by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government against criticism. According to Freedom House, “Authorities have used security, defamation, sedition, and hate speech laws, as well as contempt-of-court charges, to curb critical voices in the media … Journalists risk harassment, death threats, and physical violence in the course of their work. Such attacks are rarely punished, and some have taken place with the complicity or active participation of police.”

According to the Associated Press, use of the sedition laws by the Modi government are up 30% compared to previous administrations.

We call on India to live up to its title as the world’s largest democracy, and Article 19 of its own Constitution guaranteeing freedom of expression, by respecting the right of journalists to report on events without fear of prosecution.

Myanmar

Press freedom has always been limited in Myanmar. However, access to the internet has allowed the people of that country to get news independent of government censors. That access was disrupted following the January 2021 coup by the military against the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Following the arrest of Suu Kyi, the military shut down access to most social media platforms. Within days, however, we were pleased to hear that many of those sites were once again available to the public.

Access to social media sites is a vital part of the movement to a more open and democratic society. Even under the Suu Kyi government, media outlets in Myanmar were highly regulated. News outlets faced denial of licenses to operate if they pursued stories considered by the government to be too critical. Likewise, surveillance of journalists was commonplace and there are reports it is increasing. So are harassment and physical threats to journalists.

SPJ calls on the U.S. government to remember the principles of free press and free speech when it addresses the multi-layered issues surrounding the situation in Myanmar. We further urge the U.S. government to stress these points when talking with the ruling junta in Myanmar. We also applaud President Biden’s recent actions, placing harsh sanctions on the military commanders of Myanmar, which is a step in the right direction.

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund or give to the SPJ Foundation.

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