World Press Freedom Day Commemoration: ‘Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms: This Is Your Right!’

Deputy Chief of Mission, Timothy Smith at the World Press Freedom Day Commemoration

Good morning, everyone. I want to thank the Botswana Media and Allied Workers Union (BOMAWU) for hosting today’s event. May 3rd is a very important day globally. World Press Freedom Day is a day when we celebrate a right enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says everyone has the right “to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” The article embodies freedom of the press, which is, in its essence, the freedom to pursue the truth. The pursuit of the truth is a noble goal.

The United States values freedom of the press as an essential component of democratic governance. Democratic societies are not infallible, but they are accountable, and the exchange of ideas is the foundation for accountable governance. In the U.S. and in many places around the world, the press fosters active debate, provides investigative reporting, and serves as a forum to express different points of view, particularly on behalf of those who are marginalized in society. The U.S. commends journalists around the world for the important role they play, and for their commitment to the free exchange of ideas.

The United States in particular salutes those in the press who courageously do their work at great risk. The press is often a target of retaliation by those who feel threatened by freedom of expression and transparency in democratic processes. Journalists are often the first to uncover corruption, to report from the front lines of conflict zones, and to highlight missteps by governments. This work places many journalists in danger, and it is the duty of governments and citizens worldwide to speak out for their protection and for their vital role in opening societies to the truth.

The U.S. Department of State recently launched its fifth annual “Free the Press” campaign as part of its efforts to mark the importance of a free and independent media in the days leading up to World Press Freedom Day on May 3.  This year, the fifth anniversary of the campaign, the Department is highlighting journalists and media outlets that we have identified in previous years that were censored, attacked, threatened, imprisoned, or otherwise oppressed because of their reporting whose situations have not yet improved. We will also highlight troubling trends in the persecution of journalists worldwide.  From April 26 to May 3, the Department Spokesperson is also highlighting emblematic cases of journalists or press outlets under threat around the world at the Daily Press Briefing so that we may honor their courage and service; call on governments to protect the right to freedom of expression; and emphasize our own commitment to promoting freedom of expression here in the United States and around the world.

In Botswana, our ongoing engagement and direct partnerships reflect our two countries’ shared values and our commitment to democracy’s fundamental principles, particularly a robust and independent civil society and free press.  The media in Botswana is doing an admirable job of keeping the nation informed and at the same time holding people accountable. Democracy needs this type of strong, diverse and vibrant media to thrive.

The U.S. Embassy’s support for the media encompasses a spectrum of programming and outreach, including professional development training, journalist exchanges, visiting speakers, advocacy for access to information, and monitoring of press freedoms in the annual congressionally mandated Human Rights Report.

We are particularly proud of the important work our media partners in Botswana are doing every day: I want to recognize the INK Center for Investigative Journalism, which was launched by two U.S. government media exchange alumni in 2015, the Editors Forum, composed of represented from the public and private press in Botswana, and the Media Institute for Southern Africa. Our support to Botswana’s media groups will continue.

In 2015, Freedom House rated Botswana only “partly free” when it assessed freedom of the press.  With that in mind, my government will continue to raise the issue of a Freedom of Information Act with our counterparts in the Government of Botswana.  It remains our hope that Botswana will soon adopt a freedom of information bill that ensures greater openness, transparency and access to information for the people of this wonderful country.

In closing, a big thank you to the Botswana Media and Allied Workers Union for hosting today’s important event. Pula!