Opening Statement at the Chairmanship Conference on “Protection of Safety and Integrity of Journalists in the OSCE Region”

The United States joins others in thanking the OSCE Chairmanship in Office, Minister Ivica Dačić and the Serbian Minister for Culture and Information, Ivan Tasovac for hosting this conference and for their opening remarks. We also warmly welcome the participation of OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Ms. Dunja Mijatović.

This year has begun tragically for the journalistic community and all those who value freedom of expression. Nine members of the media were among the dead in the Paris attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices. In 2014, at least 60 journalists were killed across the globe; 73 the year before that. And many others were wounded, harassed, detained, or threatened. These are record numbers, they are getting worse, not better. Each statistic is a personal tragedy. Each is a call to action. Each is a reminder that the exercise of freedom of expression online and off must be respected and protected by all participating States. Today’s conference gives us a chance to look at how we can better protect journalists and other media workers who provide this valuable public service.

The United States strongly believes that freedom of the press is an essential element in prosperous, open, healthy societies, allowing citizens to access a wide range of information and ideas and to hold their governments accountable. Yet, across the globe and within some OSCE states, freedom of the press and the freedoms of journalists and members of the media are under siege. Journalists in the OSCE region continue to be subjected to acts of violence, including murder. They are attacked for what they have written or kidnapped for the leverage their capture may provide. Impunity for these attacks is all too common.

There is no way to eliminate the risk to journalists completely, but participating States must condemn these attacks in the strongest terms, work to bring all those responsible to justice, and take effective steps to improve the safety of journalists.

Two years ago, the U.S. State Department launched what we call the SAFE Initiative, a pilot project to help local members of the media in difficult regions. It now has five centers in various parts of the globe, and it is focused on digital and physical security, psychosocial care, information sharing, and the establishment of regional security advisory networks. It has served some 300 working journalists so far.

In addition, the U.S. Agency for International Development  (USAID) and State Department have programs that support independent media in more than 30 countries, including an internet freedom program that provides journalists with long-term mentoring, tools, training, and techniques to help them keep themselves and keep their reporting safe.

Here in Serbia, the Media Coalition and USAID successfully completed in December 2014 the Campaign for Media Literacy – a fifteen-month project that strengthened and supported the democratization of Serbian society by promoting media literacy and independent and accountable journalism. An open and transparent democratic system helps to reduce the threats against journalists who are simply doing their jobs. Programs of this type encourage further openness in freedom of expression and support for media freedom.

The United States makes press freedom a key component of its foreign policy. Each day, we express support for the right of individuals to speak, publish, broadcast, blog, tweet, and otherwise express themselves openly, without fear of retribution. And when journalists are unfairly detained or prosecuted, we raise these issues in our meetings with foreign officials at every level. Delegations have heard our statements at the OSCE Permanent Council highlighting our concerns.

The United States will continue to demand justice and an end to impunity. We will continue to work with other participating States to advance those objectives. And we welcome the efforts of news organizations, civil society, policy research institutions, political leaders, scholars, and citizens to call for accountability and urge governments to do more to protect journalists.

The United States would like to thank the Serbian Chairmanship for focusing on this important topic. We appreciate the importance the Chairmanship places on the issue of the safety of journalists and its engagement with the office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media in organizing this event. We hope the Chairmanship will continue to pay close attention to this issue and build on the momentum generated by this meeting. We encourage the Chairmanship to include freedom of expression in its self-assessment of human dimension commitments.

As delivered by Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. Gordon Duguid to the OSCE Serbian Chairmanship Conference on “Protection of Safety and Integrity of Journalists in the OSCE Region” | Belgrade, March 26, 2016