Journalism 'Is Not A Crime': The Critical Role of a Free Press

Today, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke at the grand opening of The Washington Post's new headquarters in Washington, D.C. As part of the celebration of a paper he recognized as the "epitome of an iconic institution," Secretary Kerry took the opportunity to welcome home recently-returned, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and to highlight the importance of journalist safety and press freedom globally. 

Secretary Kerry acknowledged the significant role The Washington Post and newspapers like it have played for those seeking information on sports to world events. The Secretary recalled how the Post altered both national politics and journalism with its coverage of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers. The Secretary said, "For many of us, this was a formative moment in our political lives... one reason that so many people in the media today are prepared to tell the truth, to stand up to powerful interests, is precisely because The Washington Post proved that not even the President of the United States is above the law."

Highlighting the crucial importance of information and objectivity, Secretary Kerry noted, "As a species, we are driven to know what’s going on in the world -- maybe particularly as Americans -- it’s in our DNA. And that desire resides deep in the bloodstream of every journalist, aspiring or established. I can tell you from my perch... it is absolutely vital that the truth emerge and that facts be known, because otherwise, people just make stuff up and feed whatever propaganda they want. And we’ve seen that in these modern times with great damaging effect."

Secretary Kerry continued, "We see it in what happens in the absence of knowledge and the power that it gives to dictators, to demagogues, to tyrants. Silence allows crime and corruption to rot whole countries. Ignorance allows demagogues to argue that up is down and black is white, that merely interviewing a dissident is somehow tantamount to treason, and yes, some people to even claim that rape and murder of an innocent is the calling of God." 

"Truth does battle with myths everywhere now, and competing myths fight one against the other, making objectivity on political life the first casualty, and often not the last." -Secretary Kerry, Grand Opening Event for The Washington Post

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, look on as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks about press freedom and his work to free Rezaian - who was unjustly held in Iran for 18 months - as the Secretary addressed a ceremony on January 28, 2016, to dedicate the new Post headquarters in Washington, D.C. [State Department Photo]

Secretary Kerry also drew parallels between the efforts of journalists and his work as a diplomat to "find the truth" in an era marked by the unprecedented presence of information, data, and traditional and social media sources. Secretary Kerry said, "Finding the truth is at the heart of the Arab-Israeli dispute. It’s at the heart of defining the difference between Sunni and Shia, extremism and religion. It’s at the heart of the crisis involving Russia and Ukraine. It’s at the heart of the South China Sea conflict. And most starkly, it is in the narratives that are put forth by terrorists who are utterly repellent to most people but actually still attractive to some."

Then, Secretary Kerry outlined dangerous trends in journalist safety, juxtaposing his recollection of anonymous and accidental journalists' casualties during the Vietnam War with the stark realities faced by those practicing journalism in some parts of the world today. Secretary Kerry stated, "In our era, roughly two-thirds of the reporters who die violently are killed not in spite of their profession but because of it. And they are attacked for what they have written, silenced for what they have witnessed, or kidnapped for the leverage that their capture might provide. And in most cases, the perpetrators are never caught."

"The truth is that independent media -- reporters, broadcasters, photographers, bloggers, even cartoonists -- are under constant pressure today, whether physical or political. And here we are well into the 21st century, and yet only about one person in six lives in a country where the press can truly be described as free."-Secretary Kerry, Grand Opening Event for The Washington Post

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks about press freedom and his work to free Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian - who was unjustly held in Iran for 18 months -- as he addressed a ceremony on January 28, 2016, to dedicate the new Post headquarters in Washington, D.C. [State Department Photo]

Secretary Kerry concluded his remarks by reinforcing the critical place journalism holds in an open and democratic society, and recognized State Department and USAID efforts, through U.S. embassies and consulates, to fund programs that support independent media in more than 30 countries and help defend the rights of journalists everywhere.  In his closing, Secretary Kerry said, "...It is up to us, up to you, up to the defenders of liberty to close ranks. And this begins with the recognition that no government, whatever its pretensions and whatever its accomplishments, can fairly call itself great if its citizens are not allowed to say what they believe or are denied the right to learn about events and decisions that affect their lives. So let me underscore: A country without a free and independent press has nothing to brag about, nothing to teach, and no way to fulfill its potential."

For more information:

Secretary Kerry Speaks About Press Freedom and His Work to Free Washington Post Reporter Jason Rezaian as He Addressed a Ceremony to Dedicate New Washington Post Headquarters [State Department Photo]
Posted by DipNote Bloggers
January 28, 2016

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