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Foreign Policy Analysis
U.S. Public Diplomacy: The Commitment to Press Freedom in a Changing Media Landscape

U.S. Public Diplomacy: The Commitment to Press Freedom in a Changing Media Landscape


SPENCER P. BOYER: Thanks so
much for that kind introduction. I’m really happy to be
with you, here, today. I want to congratulate,
as others have done, the organizers of the conference
along with the moderators, the speakers, the panelists,
and all of the participants for being part of the session
and having contributed so much to a very successful exchange
of ideas on this vital topic. And I do know that I’m the
only thing standing between you all and the end of your day. Drinks, going to
see friends, family, so I’m going to keep
my remarks brief. We can take a couple of
questions at the end, but you can also feel
free to find me afterwards if you want to talk
more informally. And I’ll see a lot
of you tonight. As a public official,
responsible for understanding how my government relates to
the public in the countries of Europe, I am keenly
aware of the role of a free and responsible media
as a channel of communication between our societies. I appreciate the
effort you all are making towards ensuring the
free flow of information within your countries and
across national borders. As my big boss, Secretary
Clinton, has said, “when a free media
is in jeopardy, all other human rights
are also threatened. So, in that spirit,
let us continue to champion those who
stand for media freedom and expose those
who would deny it. And let us always
work toward a world where the free flow of
information and ideas remains a powerful force
for progress,” end quote. I understand that many of
you, at least those of you from Macedonia, have seen
George Clooney’s film Good Night and Good Luck, the story
of an American journalist, Edward R. Murrow. Ambassador Reeker
attended the opening of the Journalism in American
Film series last month, which kicked off with the
showing of that movie. He took the occasion to
note that the media, in all of its forms, are the guardians
of the values that we cherish. Including free speech and a
free and independent press. Those who practice journalism
are nudged, in large respect, by their ability to fulfill
the mission of holding elected officials
accountable through objective and fair reporting. Now, George Clooney
didn’t make that film as a mere historical document. He made it because
he felt strongly that Murrow’s story was relevant
to us in the 21st Century. Just as Murrow was fighting
to preserve and renew an American tradition of
free press and government accountability extending
back to the 17th century, our generation must carry the
torch passed to us by Murrow and keep it alive
for the future. New generations and
new media innovations present new challenges
for those of us in the media, government,
civil society, as well as other sectors. As a Deputy Assistant
Secretary of State for European and
Eurasian affairs, with a focus on public
diplomacy and public affairs, following the press in Europe
is a major part of my job. At this time, we’re all
paying very close attention to the phenomenon of social
media, as you all are, as well. Its spread is expanding
access to reporting. It’s reshaping the practice
and profession of journalism. It’s redefining how people
relate to each other, to their governments, and
their sources of information. The communications
revolution has had an impact on the
attitudes and aspirations of people everywhere. And one needs to look no
further than the recent events in Northern Africa
and the Middle East and how social media was the
key means of communication for protesters. Social media users have
played a leading role in the drama unfolding in
countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Syria. And the internet is serving
as a catalyst for journalists and citizens alike, to
connect with each other, share their stories,
and give voice to ideas for positive
change in their societies. More people have access
to more information, now, than ever before. With technology
that empowers people and connects them with
communities, networks, and markets. Hostile forces,
however, have been able to control access or
exploit opportunities to spread disinformation, stoke
hatred, or inspire acts of terrorism and destruction. In Egypt and Tunisia,
we saw that social media can be used and
manipulated just as easily as government proclamations
or information reported in the press. This makes your mission, as
professional journalists, all the more important,
in my opinion. To use the tools of
social media ethically and with professional
principals and report on events fairly and objectively. As Secretary Clinton said
earlier this year, quote, “the internet has
become the public space of the 21st century. The world’s town square, its
classroom, its marketplace, its coffee house
and its nightclub. We all shape and are shaped
by what happens here, all 2 billion of us on the
internet and counting.” This is the new public space
in which you are active. It’s crowded and growing
more crowded every day. It’s an environment that’s
challenging how journalists collect information,
disseminate it to consumers, and serve as a channel of
communication between citizens and the government. Undoubtedly, the arrival
of the digital age, the evolution of the
internet, the emergence of new forms of media, and the
rise of online social networks has sparked debate as to what
it means to be a journalist. What role bloggers play
and what the effect of a blurring of lines
between citizen journalists and professionals will be on
the media of today and tomorrow. The outcome of that debate
will depend, in large part, on maintaining a commitment to
the free expression of ideas. Your role is– depending on
your local circumstances– to create, maintain, and/or
expand the environment where ideas win or lose
public favor by their merits. Not on the basis of who
controls access to information. This week’s
conference celebrates another important event. World Press Freedom Day was
observed this week on May 3rd. It was established
by the United Nations to celebrate the
principles of press freedom and commemorate those
who have fought and died trying to exercise them. This year, the U.S.
Partnered with the UNESCO to host the global commemoration
of World Press Freedom Day in Washington D.C. This year’s
theme, the commemoration, could not have been more timely. 21st century media, new
media, new barriers. The establishment and fostering
of an independent, pluralistic, and free press is essential
to the development of civil societies and
democracies across the globe. Around the world, as people
reflect on World Press Freedom Day and renew their
commitment to the free flow of information, we hope that
this part of the world– Macedonia and elsewhere
in the region– can become a source
of positive examples. But that’s not always
been the case, of course, but this week’s conference shows
the way to new possibilities. Just as media pose
difficult questions, they also give us the tools
to engage with each other and overcome challenges. So, with that, I want to
thank you for your attention. Again, I want to thank
you for your participation in this conference and for your
commitment to, what I believe, is a brave and
honorable profession. I urge you to continue
to strive for excellence in your craft in the
traditional press as well as with social media,
with every word you write and in everything
that you report. This applies to the
immediate demand for fair and accurate
information on Macedonia’s upcoming elections, but also
on your reporting and analysis of developments in the
region and around the world. Your fellow citizens, I
think, deserve no less. Thank you so much.

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