Senate warns of threats to free press around the world

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By Mike Sheehan

Burma, Iran top group’s list of worst countries in which to be a blogger

Freedom of the press is one of the most hallowed of the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and has seen America through thick and thin, even as time and technology have changed the way news is delivered.

Today, the U.S. Senate marked World Press Freedom Day by issuing a resolution acknowledging threats to the free press abroad and “reaffirming the United States’ commitment to promoting this essential right globally.”

The bipartisan effort was spearheaded by Democratic Sens. Russ Feingold, John Kerry, Patrick Leahy, Dick Durbin and others along with GOP Sens. Dick Lugar and Johnny Isakson and “independent Democrat” Joe Lieberman.

     

Said Sen. Kerry (D-MA), the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, “A free press holds powerful people and big institutions accountable, and gives voice to people and interests who might never be heard, and that is a sacred freedom that should be protected and spread around the globe.”

Sen. Feingold (D-WI), himself a former White House contender, said, “A free society depends on a free press, and it is our duty to promote and protect this freedom around the world.”

Added Sen. Leahy (D-VT), “[W]e are reminded that an open and accountable society comes with the duty of its citizens to seek out the truth and to empower themselves with that knowledge. All of us have an interest in preserving press freedoms and protecting the public’s right to know.”

The Senate resolution, as described in a press release issued to RAW STORY, “celebrates the fundamental right of freedom of the press, commends journalists around the world for their work holding government accountable and strengthening civil society and pays tribute to those journalists who lost their lives in the line of duty.

“The resolution,” continues the release, “also condemns actions around the world to suppress the freedom of the press and calls for the U.S. government to develop a system to more rapidly identify, publicize and respond to threats against press freedom worldwide.”

Hundreds of journalists were arrested, attacked, threatened and even kidnapped around the world in the last year, according to Reporters Without Borders, while over one hundred reporters and other media personnel died on assignment, per the International Federation of Journalists.

In Iran, jailed U.S.-born journalist Roxana Saberi was reportedly on a hunger strike, a claim denied by the Iranian government, which is also holding noted blogger Hossein Derakshan.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a nonprofit organization based in the U.S. that promotes press freedom, has meanwhile posted its list of the ten “worst countries to be a blogger.” Burma (Myanmar), where one blogger is serving an almost 60-year sentence for publicizing post-cyclone video footage, tops the list, with Iran and Syria at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively. The list is rounded out by Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Tunisia, China, Turkmenistan and Egypt.

The complete CPJ report is available at this link.

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