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Obama Signs Law Supporting Global Press Freedom


Listen to Susan Yackee's interview with Mohamed Abdul Dayem, the program coordinator for the Middle East with The Committee to Protest Journalists, on the legislation:

President Barack Obama has signed a law that will require the U.S. government to shine a brighter spotlight on governments that tolerate or sanction press freedom violations. The Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act, which gained final approval from Congress last month, is named after the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002.

The law directs the State Department to include in its annual global human rights report, information detailing the state of press freedom and the extent to which governments are supporting or tolerating or are actually involved in violations.

In addition, the United States will look at actions governments take to preserve the safety and independence of the media, and steps they take to ensure that those who attack or murder journalists are prosecuted.

President Obama signed the law in an Oval Office ceremony, saying it sends a strong signal about core American values regarding freedom of the press, and of U.S. support for journalists he said are taking big risks around the world. "There are enormously courageous journali sts, and bloggers, who, at great risk to themselves, are trying to shine a light on critical issues that people in their countries face, who are in the front lines against tyranny and oppression," he said.

Joining the president were Daniel Pearl's father, Judea, his mother Ruth, his two sisters Michelle and Tamara, his widow, Mariane, and their eight-year-old son, Adam Daniel, who was born three months after his father was murdered while reporting on al-Qaida in Pakistan.

The law was approved by the House of Representatives last December by a 403 to 12 vote, and passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate in April.

The Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act requires the State Department to include in its assessment such things as direct physical attacks, imprisonment, indirect sources of pressure and censorship by governments, military, intelligence, or police forces, criminal groups, or armed extremist or rebel groups.

President Obama called the death of Daniel Pearl a powerful reminder to the world of the threats journalists face from those who would silence them. "It reminded us of how valuable a free press is, and it reminded us that there are those who would go to any length in order to silence journalists around the world," he said.

President Obama said the law sends a strong message that the U.S. government is paying attention to what other governments do when it comes to a free press.

Without this kind of attention, he said, governments feel they can operate against the press with impunity. The legislation, he said, helps send a message that they cannot, adding he intends to make sure this is carried out with vigor by the State Department.

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