Since arriving in Côte d’Ivoire, I have been impressed by the diversity of media that exists in this country. There are newspapers from all sides of the political spectrum; specialty publications focused on issues ranging from fine dining to sports; a wide variety of online news sources; and a profusion of proximity, commercial, government and confessional broadcast stations that together provide an abundance of media options for the Ivoirian public. However, as we mark World Press Freedom Day this month, it is important to take stock of where the country is and where it is going in regards to freedom of the press.
World Press Freedom Day is an annual occasion to recognize, honor, and underscore the essential role that free and independent media play in fostering and protecting freedom of expression and democratic principles. Article 19 of he Universal Declaration of Human Rights identifies freedom of expression as a universal right in . The constitution of Côte d’Ivoire explicitly incorporates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and by joining journalists on Press Freedom Day, the Ivoirian Minister of Communications reiterated the Government of Côte d’Ivoire’s support for freedom of the press. In the United States, we hold press freedom as a fundamental component of our democratic beliefs, enshrined in the First Amendment of our Constitution.
Why is media freedom so important? As Article 19 of the Universal Declaration states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
As we have seen in Côte d’Ivoire, independent media are a tremendous tool for the betterment of society, to sensitize the population and share information about the world around us. However, , the media can be a force that engenders violence and hate against others.
Although hate speech and incitements to violence go beyond the limits of freedom of expression, those limits are not breachedby simply speaking unfavorably about public figures. Journalists and other members of the media should be able to investigate, research, publish, and disseminate news, information, and opinions freely both online and offline. American political leaders are often the subjected to wide degrees of criticism, praise or even ridicule depending on the perspective of the media outlet. This public exchange of diverse thoughts and ideas permits both the public and leaders to assess policy and positions. .
As Côte d’Ivoire looks ahead to the 2015 presidential election, the media will be called upon to provide coverage of political actors and their positions so that voters can make informed decisionsl. The U.S. Embassy will continue to support raising the professional standards of journalists by sponsoring trainings, holding information sessions, distributing training tools and sending journalists to the United States through various exchange programs.
However, there are other issues on which the government must focus. The 2014 score for Côte d’Ivoire from the NGO Reporters without Borders, ranked the country 101st in the world for press freedom. While a slight drop from the 2013 score, it is still a marked improvement from its position of 159th in 2012. Part of this score is comprised of the level of safety for journalists in the country. Governments have a duty to protect journalists from physical harm and intimidation, and when journalists are the victims of crimes, governments are responsible for investigating those crimes and bringing the perpetrator(s) to justice.
The United States commends the government of Côte d’Ivoire for its work to encourage press freedom in the country and calls on it to continue those efforts. Democracy can only exist in an environment where journalists can operate freely, independently, and without fear.