WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) held a hearing with Mr. Miklos Haraszti, Representative on Freedom of the Media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The hearing entitled, “Freedom of the Media in the OSCE Region,” focused on media freedom trends in the OSCE region.
During the hearing, Mr. Haraszti voiced his support for the draft “shield law” (H.R. 2102). Haraszti noted that all 50 U.S. states already have similar protections for journalists and that adoption of a federal law would set a positive example for other OSCE countries.
Chairman Hastings noted, “When it comes to freedom of speech and freedom of the media, I believe the United States has a record of which we can truly be proud. But every democracy – even a well-established democracy – has room for improvement and I believe the United States would benefit from having a shield law. For this reason, I joined 398 of my colleagues in the House in voting for such a bill. A companion bill has been voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and I hope we will see this legislation signed into law.”
Helsinki Commissioner Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-AL), raised concerns during the hearing about the dangers faced by journalists in Azerbaijan, noting that this country has more journalists in jail than any other OSCE country. Chairman Hastings echoed Representative Aderholt’s views, voicing particular concern about the recent conviction of Mr. Ilgar Nasibov, a correspondent for RFE/RL’s Azeri service.
Congressman Mike McIntyre (D-NC), who is also a member of the Commission, noted that Kazakhstan will host the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s annual meeting next year and will serve as OSCE Chair-in-Office in 2010. He asked Mr. Haraszti to outline concrete steps that Kazakhstan should take to improve conditions for journalists in an effort to set a good example for other countries in the region. In response, Mr. Haraszti singled out three measures as priorities: 1) the repeal of Kazakhstan’s “insult” and criminal defamation law; easing the administrative framework for handling the media (including licensing and registration for print media); and enhancing media pluralism, particularly in broadcasting.