ROCHESTER, New York — Introduced in the Senate on April 29, 2021, the International Press Freedom Act of 2021 promotes freedom of expression for journalists working outside the United States. In the year 2020 alone, Reporters Without Borders notes the killing of 50 journalists with an additional 387 journalists facing imprisonment globally. This act provides necessary protections to these journalists and enables foreign nations to better protect them in the future.
Role of Journalists
Umar Cheema is an investigative reporter for the Pakistani newspaper The News. On September 4, 2010, an unknown group of assailants abducted and assaulted Cheema. Cheema believes that the attack stems from his news reporting that criticizes the Pakistani government.
Protecting journalists who may be victims of harassment, threats or assault is essential for maintaining an environment of free expression. This free expression often concerns topics such as poverty issues and governmental corruption within a country. The promotion of free expression enables increased coverage of these issues, and in turn, increased awareness.
Office on International Press Freedom
The International Press Freedom Act promotes the establishment of an Office on International Press Freedom. This office would operate within the U.S. Department of State and would be managed by the Coordinator for International Press Freedom. The holder of this office will be responsible for promoting “freedom of the press and freedom of expression abroad.” This process includes condemning any violations of these rights and recommending a response from the United States government. These responses can include granting nonimmigrant visas to at-risk journalists and “the provision of humanitarian parole.”
The coordinator is tasked with working alongside “foreign governments, intergovernmental organizations, and specialized agencies of the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and other international organizations” to address issues related to press freedom. Additionally, the coordinator must attend “multilateral conferences and meetings” concerning press freedom abroad.
At-Risk Journalists Fund
The International Press Freedom Act will establish the At-Risk Journalists Fund. This fund operates within the United States Treasury and aims to provide support and protection to journalists who work within “restrictive environments.”
The fund will support “training in digital identity protection and physical security” to ensure the safety of journalists. Additionally, the fund will support psycho-social care for journalists. Existing mechanisms, such as the Human Rights Defenders Fund of the Department of State, will help protect journalists who have faced threats, harassment or attacks and require relocation, through emergency aid. Medium-term emergency assistance will also be provided, which can include extending the length of relocation due to ongoing security concerns.
Struggle Against Impunity
The act directs that the U.S. Secretary of State provides a list of at least 10 nations where journalists face the highest risks of human rights violations. To assist in fighting impunity, the Secretary of State must also submit a report to Congress containing the following information:
- The number of journalists who faced attacks, harassment, death and other violations during the year prior.
- The number of crimes against journalists that led to prosecutions and convictions and the specific sentencing given.
- A “description of any relevant prevention efforts or training conducted by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs of the Department of State for host nation officials, journalists or other individuals.”
Nonimmigrant Visas/Humanitarian Parole
The International Press Freedom Act provides protection to journalists who may be in some kind of immediate danger. The U.S. will provide at-risk journalists nonimmigrant visas for entry into the United States. The spouses and children of these journalists will be provided with special priority for their nonimmigrant visas.
In this case, the act defines a journalist as one “who practices (on a regular or professional basis) the collection and dissemination of information to the public through any means of mass communication.” The act also defines standards of professional journalism for the purpose of this section. This includes the “collection and dissemination of information, freely and in accordance with the principles of attachment to the truth, plurality of points of view, and rationality with respect to the methods of the establishment of fact and fact verification.”
Humanitarian parole allows temporary admission to the U.S. for emergency humanitarian reasons when one cannot obtain a visa through traditional methods.
The protections for journalists that stem from the International Press Freedom Act are essential. Ultimately, this bill, if passed, will better equip foreign journalists to utilize freedom of expression while also protecting them from human rights violations and persecution.
– Max Cole