Monday, 29 May, 2023

A free and independent press is a vital element in any democracy, says US diplomat

  • Diplomatic Correspondent
  • 3rd May, 2023 07:26:18 PM
  • Print news

Charge d'Affaires (CDA) at the US Embassy in Dhaka Helen LaFave has said a free and independent press is a vital element in any democracy. 

“It gives citizens the information they need to hold their leaders accountable and promotes economic development.  It allows people to engage meaningfully in the political and civic spheres of their communities, their nations, and the world,” she said.

Addressing said at an event at organised at the American Centre in Baridhara on Wednesday, she said the right to press freedom is enshrined in Bangladesh’s Constitution, as well as the founding documents of the United Nations.

“Article 39 of the Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees the freedom of speech, expression, and press,” she added.

Furthermore, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, recognises the importance of freedom of expression and the press.

The US Embassy in Dhaka hosted the discussion titled “Shaping a future of rights: Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights” held at the American Center auditorium to commemorate World Press Freedom Day 2023.

Representatives of member countries of the Media Freedom Coalition (MFC) in Bangladesh attended the event. In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 as “World Press Freedom Day

“As we look to the future, we must recognise the importance of preserving and protecting the right to freedom of expression and the press in the face of threats such as disinformation and censorship.  This is particularly critical in elections periods, be they local or national,” Helen LaFave said.

To have a free and fair election, journalists must be able to fully inform the public, the US CDA said adding “This means that they must be able to cover events without fear of harassment, intimidation, or violence.  Additionally, journalists must have access to information and be able to protect their sources.”

She said each of us has a responsibility to recognize and protect the value of press freedom and to protect it.  This includes the government, owners of media organisations, civil society leaders, political parties, and international organisations.

In her speech, the US diplomat said: “Journalism is not a crime.  I repeat journalism is not a crime.  Journalists should not be punished or face criminal charges just for doing their job.  It is not enough to have a constitutional provision or law that protects journalists on paper.  Leaders must demonstrate every day by their words and actions that they truly believe in press freedom.”

She further said protecting media freedom benefits societies in many ways.  “By protecting media freedom, a society is more prosperous.  Studies have shown that countries with more press freedom have greater economic growth.  The reason for this is simple:  a free press promotes transparency, which increases accountability as it helps reduce corruption, and fosters a business-friendly environment.”

A free press is also essential for promoting human rights and social justice, Helen LaFave said adding that journalists play a critical role in exposing human rights abuses and promoting accountability. 

“Press freedom is like a bright light that shines in the dark corners of society.  Suppressing press freedom eliminates that light and allows the darkness of impunity and wrongdoing to thrive.  When we see opposition newspapers banned, journalists or their family members attacked or arrested, or editors sued over violations of a flawed law, we are gravely concerned that press freedom, and democracy, is at stake.”

She called for upholding the principles of media freedom and allow the light to shine. “Let us resist efforts to silence critical voices or limit the scope of the media.  Let us work together to build a more just, equitable, and prosperous world.”

High Commissioners/Ambassadors and representatives from Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States were present on the occasion.