New law to force State to look at press freedom more closely

First, let me say that I am married to a U.S. Foreign Service Officer. Most of our friends are FSOs. And many have been on board with the idea that civil and human rights are best protected by a vigorous and free press.

It is with a certain amount of joy that I see Pres. Obama is ready to sign the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act.

The new law requires the State Department identify countries where there are violations of press freedom and determine whether government authorities of those countries participate in, facilitate or condone the violations. The State Department will also have to report on the actions of governments to preserve the safety and independence of news media and ensure the prosecution of those who attack or murder journalists.

What seems to be new is the last requirement.

The State Department already includes media freedom in its annual Human Rights report. The reports include repression of free media or harassment of journalists. What is new is that pressure is to be applied on governments that do not move on the killers of journalists. (Just what kind of pressure that could be used is unclear to me. So this may end up being another chest-thumping but toothless provision.)

Requirements to punish national governments for local actions could also be a problem. For example, in Mexico it is quite clear that local authorities have dragged their heels in investigating the killings of Mexican journalists along the northern border. At the same time, however, the national government has pushed for the arrest and prosecution of the killers.

Do we punish the country because of some local crooks?

For my money, the law is a reaffirmation of a basic tenant of American policy: a free and independent press is vital to a stable and democratic system of government. (And that is why the dictators in China and Iran are so afraid of free media.)

This re-affirmation is good not only because it reminds the rest of the world what is important to us but it also can help remind people in the US international communities (not just the folks at State) what is important to America.

A free press may make governance a bit more difficult but it is vital to any democracy.

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