The President Commemorates World Press Freedom Day

The President: Well,
as many of you know, Sunday is World
Press Freedom Day, a day in which we reaffirm
the vital role that a free press plays in democracy and
shining a light on the many challenges, cruelties and
also hopeful stories that exist in countries
all around the world. Journalists give all
of us, as citizens, the chance to know the
truth about our countries, ourselves, our governments. That makes us better. It makes us stronger. It gives voice
to the voiceless, exposes injustice, and holds
leaders like me accountable. Unfortunately, in too many
places around the world, a free press is under attack
by governments that want to avoid the truth or mistrust
the ability of citizens to make their own decisions. Journalists are harassed,
sometimes even killed. Independent outlets
are shut down. Dissent is silenced. And freedom of
expression is stifled. And that’s why I really
appreciated and valued the opportunity to hear from
three journalists who have been incredibly courageous
under some very, very difficult
circumstances. All three are from countries
that severely restrict the freedom of the press. All three have been detained
or harassed in the past. All three have sought refuge
here in the United States. And we welcome them so that
they can continue their important work. Just very briefly, I
want to mention them. We have Fatima Tlisova,
who is from Russia. She reported on military
operations in the North Caucasus region, as well
as disappearances and corruption. She was attacked, kidnapped,
tortured herself. Today, she reports for
the Voice of America, and most recently has spent
time reporting on the Boston trials related to
the Boston bombing. So we very much appreciate
Fatima being here. We also have Dieu Cay —
that’s his pen name — from Vietnam, a blogger who has
written on human rights, including religious freedom,
is a leading voice for greater press
freedom in Vietnam. He spent six years in prison
and was just released in October. And finally, we
have Lily Mengesha, who is from Ethiopia. She helped to shine a light
on the outrage of child brides. After her advocacy
for a free press, she was harassed
and detained. Today, she is with the
National Endowment for Democracy. So I heard firsthand I
think from all of them the importance of all of us,
including the United States government, speaking out
on behalf of the value of freedom of the press. As I indicated to them,
these are countries in which we are engaged and
do a lot of business, and we think that engagement
and diplomacy is absolutely critical to the national
interest of the United States. But what’s also important is
that we speak out on behalf of the values that
are enshrined in our Constitution and
our Bill of Rights, because we believe those
values are not simply American values, that
certain core values like being able to express
yourself and your conscience without danger is a human
right, a universal right, and ultimately makes the
world better and stronger when individual conscience
and a press that is free is allowed to function. It’s also a time for us to
reflect and honor all those journalists who are
languishing in jail as we speak right now, are being
harassed, are in danger, and, of course, journalists
whose lives were lost. That includes Steven Sotloff
and James Foley and Luke Somers; those killed in
Paris at Charlie Hebdo. We’ll keep working for the
release of journalists who are unjustly imprisoned,
including Jason Rezaian of The Washington Post, who
is currently being held in Iran. So, once again, I want to
thank the three journalists who are here for sharing
with me in very clear and stark terms some of the
challenges that folks are facing. I want everybody to
understand that this will continue to be a priority
for the United States in our foreign policy, not only
because it’s the right thing to do, but also because
ultimately I believe it’s in the national interest
of the United States. So, with that, since it’s
World Press Freedom Day, I figure I’d better take
at least one question. The Press: Will the charges against the police in Baltimore, sir, help to defuse
things there? The President: Before I
answer your question, when we were discussing why
I thought freedom of the press was so important, I
actually used the example of Selma, the incredible
courage of those marchers across the bridge, and I
pointed out that had there not been good reporters like
Mr. Bill Plante at that bridge that day, America’s
conscience might not have been stirred and we might
not have seen the changes that needed to be made. So that’s just one example
of why press freedom is so important. Bill, the State’s Attorney
had literally just walked to the podium as I
was coming in here, so I’ve not had an
opportunity to see the nature of the charges. I didn’t watch the press
conference that she engaged in. So let me just say this,
building on what I said in the Rose Garden: It is
absolutely vital that the truth comes out on what
happened to Freddie Gray. And it is my practice not
to comment on the legal processes involved; that
would not be appropriate. But I can tell you that
justice needs to be served. All the evidence
needs to be presented. Those individuals who are
charged obviously are also entitled to due process
and rule of law. And so I want to make sure
that our legal system runs the way it should. And the Justice Department
and our new Attorney General is in communications with
Baltimore officials to make sure that any assistance
we can provide on the investigation is provided. But what I think the people
of Baltimore want more than anything else is the truth. That’s what people around
the country expect. And to the extent
that it’s appropriate, this administration will
help local officials get to the bottom of exactly
what happened. In the meantime, I’m
gratified that we’ve seen the constructive, thoughtful
protests that have been taking place, peaceful
but clear calls for accountability — that those
have been managed over the last couple of days in a way
that’s ultimately positive for Baltimore and
positive for the country. And I hope that approach
to nonviolent protest and community engagement
continues. And finally, as I’ve
said for the last year, we are going to continue to
work with the task force that we put together
post-Ferguson. I’m actually going to be
talking to mayors who are interested in figuring ways
to rebuild trust between the community and police, and to
focus on some of the issues that were raised by the
task force right after this meeting. Our efforts to make sure
that we’re providing greater opportunity for young people
in these communities — all those things are going to be
continuing top priorities for the administration. And we’ll probably have some
more announcements and news about that in the days
and weeks to come. All right. Thank you very
much, everybody.

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