Senate Unanimously Calls on Trump, Tillerson to Defend Press Freedom

Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez Soto, right, and attorney Carlos Spector meet with journalists following his release from detention Jan. 30, 2009, in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/The El Paso Times, Victor Calzada)

WASHINGTON — The Senate unanimously passed a resolution from a bipartisan group of senators this week calling on the Trump administration to make advocacy for press freedom a cornerstone of foreign policy.

The resolution, sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), notes that the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act of 2009, also passed then by unanimous consent, expanded the annual State Department human rights reports to include press freedom analysis, and how the 2016 World Press Freedom Index from Reporters Without Borders indicated “a climate of fear and tension combined with increasing control over newsrooms by governments and private sector interests.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported this week that 42 media workers were killed this year in the course of doing their jobs. The Senate resolution underscores that “impunity for the murder of journalists remains systemic, with the killers going free in 9 out of 10 cases.”

“Freedom of the press is a key component of democratic governance, activism in civil society, and socioeconomic development… freedom of the press enhances public accountability, transparency, and participation,” the resolution states.

It “commends journalists and media workers around the world for their essential role in promoting government accountability, defending democratic activity, and strengthening civil society, despite threats to their safety” and “condemns all actions around the world that suppress freedom of the press.”

The resolution calls on President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to “preserve and build upon United States leadership in freedom of the press, on the basis of First Amendment protections,” “improve the means by which the United States Government rapidly identifies, publicizes, and responds to threats against freedom of the press around the world,” “urge foreign governments to conduct transparent investigations and adjudications of the perpetrators of attacks against journalists,” and “highlight the issue of threats against freedom of the press in the annual Human Rights Reports and year round.”

“With passage of this resolution, the Senate has made clear that persistent attacks on the media and minimization of journalism as ‘fake news’ are unacceptable,” Casey said in a statement. “Journalists take incredible risks to tell the truth about major events in the world, and face intimidation and violence for shining light on corruption and exposing abuse. This resolution recognizes the importance of press freedom for both strong and nascent democracies, and affirms that it should be a central pillar of U.S. policy at home and abroad.”

Rubio noted that as “press freedom and freedom of expression are under assault globally,” the resolution “reaffirms our commitment to promoting democratic values and human rights around the world by reinforcing the vital role of a free press.”

Wyden brought up the case of Emilio Gutierrez, a journalist who was placed on a hit list for exposing human rights abuses by the Mexican military and fled Mexico in 2008 with his teen son, applying for asylum as soon as he entered the United States. With his asylum request still pending before the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals, Gutierrez and his son were arrested during a routine check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Dec. 7. They were told they would be deported, despite Gutierrez facing death threats back in his home country, and are being held at a detention facility in El Paso.

Wyden said it’s “clearer than ever that freedom of the press and journalists are under attack at home and abroad.”

“My father was a journalist, and I was raised on the foundational notion that free societies depend upon a free and open press,” the senator said. “I will never stop working to uphold the rights of journalists to ask the hard questions and report the facts.”