May 3, 2023
As prepared for delivery
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the U.S. Embassy and thank you for joining us today to commemorate World Press Freedom Day.
The United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 as a day to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on its independence, and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives practicing their profession. It chose May 3 as World Press Freedom Day because it is the anniversary of the signing of the Windhoek Declaration, a statement of principles for a free and independent press adopted by African journalists in Windhoek, Namibia on May 3, 1991.
As we commemorate the day, it is important to reflect on the theme for this year’s World Press Freedom Day, which is, “Future of Righs: Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights.” Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that is essential in order to promote and protect all other human rights.
A free and independent press is a vital element in any democracy. It gives citizens the information they need to hold their leaders accountable and promotes economic development. It allows people to engage meaningfully in the political and civic spheres of their communities, their nations, and the world.
The right to press freedom is enshrined in Bangladesh’s Constitution, as well as the founding documents of the United Nations.
Article 39 of the Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees the freedom of speech, expression, and press. Furthermore, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, recognizes the importance of freedom of expression and the press.
Article 19 states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” or as Americans would say, “regardless of borders.”
I want to thank you all for standing up for these rights. To the members of the media here today, we applaud the risks you take to tell the truth, even when it is dangerous. To fellow guests representing member countries of the Media Freedom Coalition, the United States is proud to partner with your governments to stand for press freedom around the world and here in Bangladesh.
As we look to the future, we must recognize the importance of preserving and protecting the right to freedom of expression and the press in the face of threats such as disinformation and censorship. This is particularly critical in elections periods, be they local or national.
To have a free and fair election, journalists must be able to fully inform the public. This means that they must be able to cover events without fear of harassment, intimidation, or violence. Additionally, journalists must have access to information and be able to protect their sources.
Each of us has a responsibility to recognize and protect the value of press freedom and to protect it. This includes the government, owners of media organizations, civil society leaders, political parties, and international organizations.
Leaders should exercise responsibility when speaking about the media. It is one thing to disagree with a report and say, “I disagree with this report, and here are the reasons why.” However, it is another thing to employ dehumanizing or intimidating rhetoric against journalists and label them as adversaries. That is dangerous and unacceptable.
World Press Freedom Day is an occasion to remind all government officials of the weight their words carry and the impact these words can have on the safety and security of journalists. Leaders must set a positive example and foster an environment where journalists are free to do their work—to ask difficult questions; to report the facts as they understand them—without fear of retribution or harm.
Journalism is not a crime. I repeat journalism is not a crime. Journalists should not be punished or face criminal charges just for doing their job. It is not enough to have a constitutional provision or law that protects journalists on paper. Leaders must demonstrate every day by their words and actions that they truly believe in press freedom.
Protecting media freedom benefits societies in many ways. By protecting media freedom, a society is more prosperous. Studies have shown that countries with more press freedom have greater economic growth. The reason for this is simple: a free press promotes transparency, which increases accountability as it helps reduce corruption, and fosters a business-friendly environment.
A free press is also essential for promoting human rights and social justice. Journalists play a critical role in exposing human rights abuses and promoting accountability. For example, in Bangladesh, journalists have exposed government corruption, environmental abuses, and human rights violations. They can also promote gender equality by ensuring that women’s voices are heard and their experiences represented.
Press freedom is like a bright light that shines in the dark corners of society. Suppressing press freedom eliminates that light and allows the darkness of impunity and wrongdoing to thrive. When we see opposition newspapers banned, journalists or their family members attacked or arrested, or editors sued over violations of a flawed law, we are gravely concerned that press freedom, and democracy, is at stake.
Together, let us uphold the principles of media freedom and allow the light to shine. Let us resist efforts to silence critical voices or limit the scope of the media. Let us work together to build a more just, equitable, and prosperous world.