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Secure press for a secure world

The gunmen broke into the Veracruz home of crime reporter Ana Flores Salazer at two o’clock in the morning and dragged her away. The next day she was found on the side of the highway in Puebla. She was bound, half-naked, and had been killed with a plastic bag. The governor of Veracruz since 2010, Javier Duarte, did not pursue the case, nor did he investigate the other 14 journalist killings that had occurred in Veracruz since he took office.

Since 1992 there have been 1,053 “motivated” killings of members of the press globally, more including those with unconfirmed motives, and countless instances of assault, harassment, and kidnapping or incarceration with the intent of impeding journalism. The international community has proven insufficient in addressing security of the press globally, and we all pay a price. A free press makes a significant contribution to global security in the form of monitoring, anti-corruption, and conflict reporting – reporting that we too often take for granted. By increasing support to advocacy NGOs, requiring a commitment to press security for future partnerships, and bringing a Declaration of Principles regarding security for members of the press before the UN General Assembly, the United States can lead the global community in addressing the “culture of impunity” surrounding press security and take a vital step towards global stability.

{mosads}A free press is a democratic force of nature, and if the United States believes that the global spread of democracy leads to global stability then the health and security of the international press should be a priority. While press security is currently covered as a sub-category of human rights in requirements for partnership with the United States, adherence to these sub-categories (such as human trafficking in the case of Malaysia) are often ignored for expediency. In order to meaningfully communicate the importance of a free press, a commitment to preserving the safety of journalists should be an independent requirement for future US economic or military partnership deals.

The international press corps also plays a vital role in observing and reporting violations of human rights, arms embargoes, the laws of armed combat, and any other of a host of international agreements that rely on monitoring for enforcement and credibility. These challenges directly threaten US peace-building, international development, and nation-building missions, yet these same missions do not sufficiently support the development of a regional free press. Just as the US has supported development NGOs like Doctors Without Borders, grants should be given to NGOs like the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists to preserve and develop free press regionally while simultaneously preserving press neutrality. 

As the international press does not just serve the interests of the United States, the issues of press security should also be addressed in the United Nations. The United States should take a leadership role by pursuing incremental measures in the UN General Assembly. There is a history of human rights issues being addressed first by a non-binding Declaration of Principles in the General Assembly to lay the groundwork for binding measures in the future. This is a path that should be taken for press security, and a path that the United States should take the first step on.

There is a belief that government and press are, by nature, adversaries and therefore press security should not be a matter for policymakers but is the exclusive responsibility of the news industry. Given the debates raging over whistleblower protections and Edward Snowden this belief is understandable, but it is still wrongheaded and harmful. As President Obama reminded the press corps at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner:

“[…]We’ve always shared the same goal –- to root our public discourse in the truth; to open the doors of this democracy; to do whatever we can to make our country and our world more free and more just.” -President Barack Obama, White House Correspondents’ Dinner April 30, 2016

If impunity is allowed in dealing with members of the press, so too is it allowed when dealing with the security issues they report on. When atrocities go unobserved, uninvestigated, and unpunished, the global institutions that exist to ensure the safety of innocent civilians are eroded. As long as the United States of America continues to advocate democracy, freedom, and security around the world, we will depend upon on the international press, and as long as we depend on the members of the international press, we need to make their security a priority. A secure press means a secure world, and a secure world means a secure America.

Michael Martelle is a graduate student at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs in the Security Policy Studies program.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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