Reply to the Closing Session of the RFOM Conference “Media Freedom in Volatile Environments”

A TV camera positioned in front of a backdrop with OSCE logos prior to a news conference at the Hofburg in Vienna. (OSCE, Mikhail Evstafiev)

Reply to the Closing Session of the RFOM Conference “Media Freedom in Volatile Environments”

As delivered by Public Affairs Counselor Jonathan P. Lalley
June 20, 2017

Thank you, Mr. Moderator.

The State Department and Radio Liberty were raised.  The United States is proud of U.S. government overseas broadcasting.  We are open and transparent about it.  The independence of its newsrooms and commitment to journalistic standards have been historically recognized as among its greatest sources of strength.

It was also implied that the United States is somehow satisfied with the state of media freedom in Crimea.  I’ll address that in a moment.

But first, I want to thank the Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media for organizing this conference.  You assembled an excellent slate of panelists with deep knowledge and expertise that can help inform our work in support of media freedom both within and beyond the OSCE.

In reflecting on the quality of the dialogue and the Q&A sessions, the United States was disappointed, but not surprised, that instead of acting in good faith and using the conference for its intended purpose, certain participating States instead sought to stack this room with surrogates and proxies – presumably to crowd out other voices and deny the opportunity for meaningful dialogue.

Instead of allowing a vibrant conversation to go forward on how the OSCE, RFOM, and participating States can address real, pressing challenges, these States attempted to abuse this forum to sow seeds of doubt and to deny, deceive, and confuse – often through lengthy, prepared political statements unrelated – or at best only tangentially related to the topic at hand.  These statements were often made by the very individuals calling for “balance,” “dialogue,” and “impartiality.”

This is disingenuous and disrespectful, especially to the many participants who traveled a long way to participate in good-faith in a genuine dialogue.

As we leave today, it is critically important that we not lose sight of the facts, especially with respect to the status of freedom of expression and media in volatile environments, and particularly with respect to Russian-occupied Crimea:

  • It is a fact that Russia has illegally occupied the sovereign territory of its neighbor, Ukraine.
  • It is a fact that individuals peacefully expressing their opposition against the occupation have faced harassment, kidnapping, disappearance, forced psychiatric hospitalization, and politically-motivated prosecution.
  • It is a fact that independent media and civil society have been silenced and have nearly disappeared from the peninsula.
  • And it is a fact – accepted by the international community – including as reaffirmed in UN General Assembly Resolution 68/262 — that Crimea was, is, and will remain an integral part of the sovereign territory of Ukraine.

As participating States, we all have an obligation to ensure that these fora remain useful, constructive platforms for meaningful, good-faith dialogue with a broad cross section of independent voices from media and civil society.

We should all leave here clear-eyed about what we have seen here over the past two days so we can work together to ensure these fora remain vibrant spaces for the sharing of a plurality of views that can inform our work as States and as an Organization.