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US Lawmakers Introduce Bills to Strengthen Press Freedom Worldwide

FILE - Protesters rally outside the armed forces headquarters to mark World Press Freedom Day which was declared by the U.N. General Assembly in Manila, Philippines, May 3, 2019.

U.S. lawmakers have introduced two bills this month that focus on the promotion of press freedom and the protection of journalists worldwide.

The Global Press Freedom Act emerged as a bipartisan effort by Senators Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, and Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, to establish an ambassadorship for press freedom and train foreign service officers on the promotion of media independence and the protection of foreign journalists. Meanwhile, the Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act, introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, and Congressman Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, and named in honor of late Washington Post columnist, aims to hold accountable those who target journalists.

“Our new bill reasserts our commitment to a free press at home and abroad, empowering the State Department to engage with these issues diplomatically on the world stage,” said Schatz, who recently joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement late last week.

The bill was welcomed with enthusiasm by press freedom advocates.

“When the press is silenced, corruption, violence, inequalities, and abuses of power can escape unnoticed,” said Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Christophe Deloire. “This bill would create additional resources for the U.S. government to ensure government officials are working to advocate for the safety of journalists and the promotion of press freedom in places that are unsafe or hostile toward journalists.”

Annie Boyajian, director of advocacy at Freedom House, said that her organization is “proud to support the Global Press Freedom Act.”

“Appointing an ambassador-at-large for press freedom would bring needed visibility to the issue and provide a focal point for this important work at the Department of State,” Boyajian said.

Ten years ago, Congress passed similar legislation. The Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act, named after the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and killed by militants in Pakistan in 2002, required the Department of State to compile data on restrictions against freedom of the press as part of its annual human rights reporting process.

In his first major foreign policy speech, President Joe Biden said that “a free press is essential to the health of democracy.” In 2020, the U.S. ranked 45th out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.