WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) today marked World Press Freedom Day by assessing developments effecting free media throughout the 56-country OSCE region.
“Journalism in general faces more challenges than ever right now, but investigative journalists focused on exposing corruption and human rights abuses often face sharp reprisals, including murder, as a result of their work,” Chairman Cardin said. “I commend independent journalists who, often at great personal risk, pursue truth wherever it may lead, frequently putting themselves at odds with ruling powers in their countries. These courageous individuals play a critical role in advancing democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”
Chairman Cardin and Co-Chairman Hastings announced plans to convene a Helsinki Commission hearing in June to focus attention on media freedom challenges in the OSCE region. The Co-Chairmen will also raise the issue in July at the Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly which this year bears the theme: “Rule of Law: Combating Transnational Crime and Corruption.”
“I am disturbed by increasing attempts to muzzle free media in the OSCE region,” Co-Chairman Hastings said. “As a legislator, I am particularly concerned that laws are being written in some countries to impose strict control over the media, including crippling penalties for defamation, burdensome registration requirements, and censorship of online communications. Bloggers, often the most independent of journalists with less financial or physical protection, are particularly vulnerable to harsh treatment from authoritarian governments.”
A Commission briefing, “Violence and Impunity: Life in the Russian Newsroom,” last November, drew particular attention to the situation there. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported last week that the cases of 18 murdered journalists remain unsolved in Russia. At least six investigative journalists were slain in the OSCE countries in 2009.
The recently released Freedom House annual press freedom index listed three OSCE countries — Belarus, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — as particularly egregious for the wide-ranging restrictions they impose on independent media. “In these states, independent media are either nonexistent or barely able to operate,” the report noted. Restrictive media environments often indicate broader restrictions elsewhere in society, especially in terms of democratic development, human rights and the rule of law, cornerstones of the Helsinki Process.