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 announced plans to move forward a resolution on the protection of investigative journalists at the upcoming meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly.
The announcement came at a Helsinki Commission hearing on “Threats to Free Media in the OSCE Region,” which provided the first U.S. venue for testimony from Dunja Mijatovic, the recently-appointed OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. (See photos from the hearing here)
“Over the past year journalists have been slain with impunity in Russia, Turkey, and Bulgaria,” Chairman Cardin said. “Investigative journalists paid the ultimate price for their professional endeavors while scores of others have fallen victim to government harassment, violent attacks, or imprisonment in a trend that we all must work to reverse.”
The resolution to be introduced in July in Oslo, Norway, would call upon OSCE participating States to:
- promote free flow of information, including on the Internet,
- repeal laws that criminalize defamation, slander or libel,
- promptly and thoroughly investigate threats and physical attacks against journalists.
The Commission hearing addressed growing concerns over moves by some OSCE countries to curtail or control independent media. For example, in Turkey, YouTube is completely banned, in Belarus the president has the power to intercept personal e-mails, and numerous OSCE countries, including Montenegro, Slovakia, and Azerbaijan, have laws that make it illegal to insult the government.
“In several OSCE countries criminal defamation laws continue to be used as a muzzle on a free press,” Co-Chairman Hastings said. “The time has come for participating States that have not already done so to repeal such laws. The inability of independent journalists to function is often indicative of democratic restrictions elsewhere in society.”
Commissioner and Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner said, “OSCE’s pioneering work in the area of media freedom — including in the area of the Internet and other new connection technologies — is essential to the support of fundamental freedoms and democratic development in the OSCE region.”
Witnesses included Sam Patten, Senior Program Manager for Eurasia at Freedom House and Muzaffar Suleymanov, Research Associate for Europe and Central Asia at the Committee to Protect Journalists, raised significant concerns with press freedoms in Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere.
“Violence and criminal defamation laws both have a threatening effect on journalism, and I ask the OSCE Governments to speak up against such cases and bring their legislation in line with international standards on free expression,” Representative Mijatovic said. “I also call upon participating States to safeguard and enhance media pluralism, Internet freedom, and the free flow of information, which are all classical Helsinki obligations.”
Co-Chairmen Cardin and Hastings will address these issues further with their international colleagues as they work for passage of the media freedom resolution at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly next month.
More information on the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media is available here.