TAIPEI, Taiwan — An international press freedom organisation has written to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the situation of journalists in countries ranked as diplomatic priorities for the US government.
Jean-François Julliard, Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), wrote to Washington on February 17.
He said it was “essential” that the United States “actively participate in promoting human rights within the international community”.
Julliard’s communiqué came one day after US State Department issued its annual report on human rights.
“The promotion of human rights is essential to our foreign policy,” Clinton said in her preface to the report
RSF said the new Congress must past a “shield law” guaranteeing US journalists federal protection for the privilege of source confidentiality.
It said this would protect sources from prison term like those handed down under the Bush administration.
RSF said the Bush years was “a period characterized by a decline in public freedoms”.
“What is at stake is not only the preservation of a basic principle of investigative journalism, but also of the quality of information that the American public has a right to expect.”
The letter said that the US must keep a particularly close watch in regions where it has established a military presence.
It said the ongoing war in Iraq was “the bloodiest of all time for local and foreign journalists” and that the US Army “bears the heavy burden of responsibility for some of these tragedies”.
The US Army has “too often” hindered the work of journalists and Bagram Prison remained closed to the media, RSF said.
RSF said the Beijing Olympics did little to further the progress of freedom of expression.
It was hopeful that Secretary of State Clinton would have induced the communist administration in Beijing to release “prisoners of conscience” during her visit late February.
It said the ‘comprehensive dialogue’ of which Clinton spoke must go beyond economic and trade considerations.
China, RSF said, was “the world’s biggest prison for freelance journalists and cyber dissidents”. It noted that said that many international media Websites were still blocked.
It called for similar relaxation of the filtering of foreign media websites and an end to the legal harassment of human rights and gender equity activists in Iran.
Iran’s Internet connection capacities rely upon U.S. companies, RSF said.
“History has shown it, and you have understood it: placing a ban on countries subject to the most repressive regimes has often exacerbated their isolation without changing the attitude of their leaders,” RSF said.
RSF said it was particularly focusing on “the State Department’s desire to mediate in favour of a genuine sharing of power between the political forces present in Zimbabwe”.
It said the participation of Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC in the government “was an essential precondition for reinstating freedoms, for an in-depth reform of press laws and for foreign journalists to gain access to a country in chaos”.
RSF also said journalist in some East Africa and West Africa nations, Syria, Myanmar, Russia, and Latin America countries continued to be on the receiving end of prison sentences, treats and violence because of their work.
“Worldwide, there are too many of these closed-off States adept at double talk and ready to exchange a strategic position in return for impunity. How can any serious diplomatic relations – ones which truly promote peace and security – be established with regimes that are exercising draconian control over information?” RSF said.
It said the consistency and credibility of US foreign policy would depend on the Obama administration’s ability “to demonstrate the same vigilance in relations with your partners and allies”.
It said that the US must prepare itself to accommodate journalists fleeing oppression and terror, and grant them asylum.
RSF said Obama was a self-appointed spokesperson in the fight for freedom of information because of comments he made while visiting Sudan in 2006.
Back then, Obama, who was elected US president last November, had said, “Press freedom is like tending a garden, it’s never done.”