February 8, 2021

US – Lawmakers and White House signal support for press freedom in Washington

Alex Edelman / AFP
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes President Joseph R. Biden’s recent comment, during the first, major foreign policy speech of his administration, that “a free press is essential to the health of democracy.” RSF also applauds the introduction of two legislative proposals last week on Capitol Hill – The Global Press Freedom Act and The Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act – and strongly encourages further congressional support for both bills.

Named in honor of the late Washington Post columnist, the Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act seeks to build upon a law that was signed by former President Barack Obama in 2010 in honor of another slain journalist, Daniel Pearl. It aims to strengthen the U.S.’ commitment to hold those who target journalists with violence or persecution accountable. RSF has repeatedly called for transparency and accountability in Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul in 2018, and supports every effort to bring those responsible for his death to justice. The bill was introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) on February 4.

The United States' commitment to the protection of journalists and the promotion of press freedom internationally is critical given its prominent role on the world stage. Not only does this bill seek justice for the senseless murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it also increases protection for reporters who risk torture, imprisonment, and even death as they report critical information,”  said RSF USA Executive Director, Anna K. Nelson. 

“More broadly, I’m encouraged by the signs we’re seeing from Washington… from the regular White House press briefings to President Biden’s explicit statement that a ‘free press isn’t an adversary’. I think it’s important that he said this while laying out his foreign policy objectives,” she added.

Another piece of legislation introduced last week, the Global Press Freedom Act, aims to institutionalize America’s commitment to advancing press freedom abroad. The bill would create an “Ambassador-at-Large” for press freedom, who would be tasked with engaging with foreign governments and organizations, drawing attention to violations of press freedom and reporter safety, and ensuring that the State Department’s annual “Country Report on Human Rights Practices” includes a “Free Expression” section. RSF sent a letter of support for the legislation to the office of Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), who co-introduced the bill with Senator Todd Young (R-IN) on February 4. Both are members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

When the press is silenced, corruption, violence, inequalities, and abuses of power can escape unnoticed,” said RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire. “This bill would create additional resources for the U.S. government to ensure government officials are working to advocate for the safety of journalists and the promotion of press freedom in places that are unsafe or hostile toward journalists.

In addition to supporting these legislative actions, RSF has proposed a set of press freedom policy recommendations for the Legislative and Executive branches of the U.S. federal government, including support for the adoption of an Office of Press Freedom in the State Department. RSF continues to embrace opportunities to support the implementation of these proposals by April 30, which will mark the end of President Biden’s first full 100 days in office.   

The United States is ranked 45th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.