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U.S. State Department can do more to protect press freedom abroad

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

REUTERS/Michael Dalder

This statement was originally published on freemedia.at on 17 February 2016.

The International Press Institute (IPI) has joined with leading free expression and press freedom defenders in calling on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to take greater action to support efforts to improve journalists' safety.

Following up on a meeting with Kerry in 2015, the groups in a joint letter sent yesterday urged him to appoint a senior member of his staff to implement the State Department's journalist safety roadmap and liaise with the groups, and to send a message to posts worldwide to set out new protocols on dealing with imperilled journalists.

They also called on Kerry to ensure that journalists receive crucial security advice from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security's Overseas Security Advisory Council, to work to convince other countries to allow journalists to carry protective gear across borders and to more fully integrate the issue of impunity against journalists into the State Department's bilateral and multilateral agenda.

The full text of the letter appears below.

***********************************************************

Secretary of State John Kerry
Department of State
Washington, D.C.
Sent via email

Dear Secretary Kerry:

A year ago you convened a critically important conference on the safety of freelance and local journalists that brought together the media industry, journalists, NGOs and members of your staff. We are writing to update you on the efforts being made by media organizations, journalists, and civil society organizations to better protect freelance and local journalists and request an update from you on the commitments made by the State Department.

On February 12, 2015, a coalition of major news companies and journalism organizations gathered to endorse the Freelance Journalist Safety Principles, a comprehensive set of practices aimed at embedding a culture of safety with international news organizations. To date, the Principles have been endorsed by over 90 organizations, including major U.S. and global TV networks, wire services, NGOs, and journalist representatives.

We have also formed the ACOS Alliance, an unprecedented collaboration between news organizations, press freedom NGOs, and journalists committed to improving access to the resources needed to keep journalists safe and cultivating A Culture of Safety (ACOS). Our initiatives include security information sharing, safety training, insurance, and communications.

In your remarks at The Washington Post a few weeks ago, you said that it is "up to the defenders of liberty to close ranks," and we have done so. But you also rightly mentioned the role that U.S. government and its embassies abroad play in protecting press freedom.

We welcome the commitment you made to create a "roadmap" for the State Department's work on journalist safety and the additional resources that have been provided to the S.A.F.E. Initiative for safety training for local journalists. However, we are concerned about progress on the three other commitments that the State Department made in the conference summary and next steps document: more fully integrate the issue of impunity against journalists into the U.S. bilateral and multilateral agenda; develop worldwide protocols within the U.S. embassy community on when and how to provide assistance to journalists working in conflict zones or other hostile environments; and coordinate with relevant countries on possible exemptions for accredited journalists carrying protective gear across international borders. We would welcome an update from you on the status of these initiatives and actions that have been taken over the past year.

Your support for press freedom and journalist safety is welcome and can play an important role in helping to protect journalists around the world. There are specific actions that you could take that would ensure the agenda you launched last year continues and leaves a lasting legacy.

Specifically, the signatories of this letter respectfully request that you consider taking the following actions:

1. Appoint a senior member of your staff to be responsible for implementing the State Department's journalist safety roadmap and liaising with the ACOS Alliance;

2. Send a message to all posts worldwide laying out a new protocol for how to deal with journalists when they get in trouble (e.g. arrested, imprisoned, injured, threatened or kidnapped;

3. Engage regional security officers in the effort to keep journalists safe by linking media organizations and freelancers to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security's Overseas Security Advisory Council, which provides crucial advice on security;

4. Make best efforts with relevant countries on exemptions for accredited journalists carrying protective gear across international borders;

5. More fully integrate the issue of impunity against journalists into the State Department's bilateral and multilateral agenda.

As you have recognized, there has never been a more dangerous time for journalists. We welcome your contribution to counteracting the unprecedented threats to the media and hope you will support our efforts by creating a culture of safety in the State Department and U.S. embassies around the world.

Sincerely,

International Press Institute
Committee to Protect Journalists
Freedom House
Pakistan Press Foundation
Reporters Without Borders

David Millikin (Director for North America, Agence France-Presse), ACOS executive committee
David Rohde (National Security Investigations Editor, Reuters), ACOS executive committee
Frontline Freelance Register (ACOS executive committee)
James W. Foley Legacy Foundation (ACOS executive committee)
John Daniszewski (Vice President, International News, The Associated Press), ACOS executive committee
Rory Peck Trust (ACOS executive committee)
2LIVES / Steven Joel Sotloff Memorial Foundation
Afghan Journalist Safety Committee
Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma
Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, Columbia University
Free Press Unlimited
Global Journalist Security
GRNlive/PayDesk
The GroundTruth Project
International Center for Journalists
International Media Support
International News Safety Institute
International Women's Media Foundation
Judith Matloff, freelance media safety trainer
Overseas Press Club
Overseas Press Club Foundation
Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues, Inc (RISC)
Storyhunter
Trauma Training for Journalists

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