U.S. Perspectives on Press Freedom

Karen Kelley
Karen Kelley

At a belated World Press Freedom Day (May 3) commemoration, PAO Harare, Karen Kelley, addressed a group of 75 journalism students at the Midlands State University (MSU) in Gweru, 260 km south of Harare on May 6th. Speaking on the topic of press freedom in the United States, Ms. Kelley used the lecture to highlight the State Department’s #FreethePress campaign as a notable example of the continued U.S. commitment to freedom of the press in the United States.

She paid tribute to journalists in Zimbabwe and around the world. Quoting Secretary Kerry’s January 28th remarks at the official opening of the Washington Post Building she told students that the United States sees journalists as “defenders of liberty” working at “a very precious endeavor … under constant pressure,” and that American journalists had proven that “not even the President of the United States is above the law” when reporters exposed details of the Watergate scandal during the Nixon Administration.”

group shotPAS Harare partnered with the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe, led by Edward Murrow Program for Journalists alumnus Loughty Dube, who facilitated the event.  With nearly 75 per cent female enrollment in the MSU journalism program, the guest presentation echoed Mission Harare’s continued support for activities that empower women working in Zimbabwe’s media industry, in an effort to ensure that women journalists stay in the media profession and pursue leadership positions in this field.

The event also provided PAS Harare with an opportunity to note the positive developments in the press freedom climate in Zimbabwe through provisions in the 2013 Constitution and recent court rulings decriminalizing publication of false information. Dissecting the media landscape in the United States, Ms. Kelley highlighted the challenges posed by new media, particularly the internet as a news source competing with U.S. newspaper readers. Zimbabwe’s media share similar challenges, with several newspapers having ceased publication. Despite these challenges, she told the students, press freedom in the United States had strong legal protection derived from the 1791 First Amendment in the United States Constitution.

But more importantly, she emphasized to the students that the first priority for the United States is free, unfettered, and uncensored access to information that is the hallmark of a free press.  “America’s founders believed that freedom and free access to information were inextricably linked. They understood that a free press was the foundation of other freedoms,” she told the students.  Students and faculty staff wanted to know what mechanisms were available to members of the public whose rights are violated by media reporting; what protections exist for journalists conducting investigative reports; and what challenges women journalists faced in the United States.

They also asked about available professional training opportunities for journalists, including exchanges and further study.  Ms. Kelley fielded questions related to the U.S. Mission’s support for press freedom in Zimbabwe, and she concluded that the current constitutional framework in Zimbabwe provides the basis for her optimism in the possibility of a free press in Zimbabwe.- ZimPAS (c) May 12, 2016