Bipartisan legislation introduced in House & SenateSmith, Suozzi unveil bill to promote journalism and freedom of the press
U.S. Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Tom Suozzi (D-NY) today introduced the World Press Freedom Protection and Reciprocity Act, legislation to protect journalist around the world who are too often censored, jailed, tortured or killed for exercising the freedom of expression and to ensure that U.S. media personnel overseas are given the same access and protections granted to foreign journalists in the U.S.
“Freedom of the press and freedom of speech are enshrined in the Bill of Rights in the United States, but they are in truthfundamental, global rights detailed in Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said Smith. “According to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ most recent report, China is the global leader in oppression as the No. 1 jailer of reporters in the world, with 48 reporters behind bars. Eritrea, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Vietnam are not far behind, and all are in the top 10 of nations most likely to censor. Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, China’s and Iran’s censorship has gone full throttle.”
“Democrats and Republicans must come together to affirm worldwide Freedom of the Press,” Suozzi said. “Our strategic adversaries led by the Chinese and Russian propaganda machines are spreading misinformation, suppressing the truth, intimidating journalists and are shaking the very foundation of our modern international order. This legislation fights for this most basic human right.”
U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chairman and Ranking Member, respectively, of the Senate Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee that oversees human rights and democracy, are introducing similar legislation in the Senate.
The bill seeks to protect press freedom globally and enhance reciprocity for U.S. news and media outlet in places such as China, where U.S. media personnel were expelled recently and where the website of U.S. news outlets are censored or blocked. To enhance press freedom the Smith-Suozzi bill:
· Requires the administration to establish a plan to negotiate reciprocal access for U.S. news and media organizations, and their employees, globally;
· Mandates sanctions for foreign officials responsible for jailing, killing, or torturing journalists and those that threaten the safety of U.S. journalists and media personnel;
· Requires clear labeling of information distributed by foreign governments in the United States under the Foreign Agents Registration Act; and
· Enhances State Department reporting on global press freedom restrictions and internet censorship.
The Smith-Suozzi bill, unlike the Senate bill, also creates a Global Press Freedom Defense Fund to provide financial and legal assistance to journalists overseas who are victims of oppressive governments and requires sanctions for any foreign official complicit in the jailing or torture of journalists and those that threaten the safety of U.S. journalists and media personnel.
Evaluating 180 countries, Reporters without Borders 2020 Press Freedom Index lists the worst offenders, including China (177th) and Iran (173rd), which each censored news on the coronavirus outbreaks “extensively.” Saudi Arabia (170th) and Egypt (166th) were cited as the world’s biggest jailers of journalists. Russia (149th) was reported as deploying increasingly sophisticated resources to control information online, and the regime in Venezuela (147) continued harassing the free press.
Smith has long supported free international journalism. In 2011 he chaired a ground breaking congressional hearing with Reporters without Borders and other advocates against censorship which focused on his legislation, the Global Online Freedom Act of 2011. He also introduced the World Press Freedom Protection Act of 2015, which served as a template for the World Press Freedom Protection and Reciprocity Act introduced this week concurrently in the House and Senate.
“Journalism serves as the eyes and ears of the free citizens in counties the world over,” Smith said. “As Thomas Jefferson famously said, ‘were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.’ That’s an ageless sentiment.”