2017-08-31
Statement by the Delegation of the Republic of Azerbaijan 1156th Meeting of the Permanent Council, 31 August 2017

Media freedom and safety of journalists in the United States of America and EU member-States

Mr. Chairperson,

The Delegation of Azerbaijan would like to take this opportunity to express its deep concern over deteriorated situation of the media freedom and safety of journalists in the United States and some EU member-states. Increased efforts to curtail media freedom and freedom of expression in these participating States are worrisome. Physical and verbal attacks on journalists and media workers over past months, including by high government officials, becomes a negative trend undermining the credibility of the media and making the journalists more vulnerable to violence and abuse. Colleagues would recall the latest statement of the RFoM, in this regard.

According to estimates of international media freedom watchdogs, 20 journalists were arrested in the United States while covering public protests or other public events in 2017. On many occasions they were subjected to physical violence by the police and security forces and their equipment were searched or seized. On four occasions journalists were stopped at the border, were questioned by the police and border guards on the matters related to their professional activity.

Journalists face increased restrictions in getting access to information, in particular vis-à-vis to high level officials. The case of Mr. Dan Heyman, Public News Service radio journalist, is especially worthwhile to be mentioned here. He was arrested on May 9 while attempting to interview Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price and was charged with willful disruption of governmental processes. The criminal complaint against him accused him of causing a disturbance by yelling questions at Secretary Price.

In this context, attempts by US authorities to tighten control over the media are troubling. As it was announced by the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Department of Justice is in the process of reviewing policies affecting media subpoena. In view of media freedom advocates, such a review aims at making it easier to summon journalists to Courts, and if it succeeds, then more journalists are likely to be threatened with jail time.

Similar situation persists in some EU member-States. This year is marked by repeated attacks on the media in France, especially during the presidential election campaign. The election campaign has seen attacks of unusual intensity on French journalists and media outlets, including death threats. There is also an increase in police violence against reporters. Reporters without Borders, a prominent media freedom watchdog concludes that covering street protests and public events is a risky activity for reporters and photographers. Wearing a press armband no longer protects them against violence by the security forces. Recently, ten cases of brutal police violence against journalists were referred to the French Ombudsman. Unfortunately, all these cases remained largely unnoticed by the RFoM Office over past months. The Delegations that are known with their interest to bring similar issues to the attention of the Permanent Council have also been surprisingly inactive on these cases.

In view of rather troubling picture outlined above, we urge the concerned participating States to uphold their relevant OSCE commitments. We further urge the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media to pay due attention to the cases outlined above and utilize all the assets at his disposal to assist respective participating States in improving their compliance with relevant OSCE commitments.

Thank you, Mr. Chairperson.

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