President Joe Biden warned the truth is “under attack” and said that “authoritarians” are trying to undermine the media in a statement issued for World Press Freedom Day.
The day falls on May 3 and it honors the work of journalists and the press, as well as highlighting those who operate under difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions in different parts of the world.
Biden issued a statement on the White House website on Monday praising journalists and calling on them to continue holding those in power to account. He also offered a stark warning about efforts to curtail the media.
Biden said “we celebrate the courage of truth-tellers who refuse to be intimidated, often at great personal risk, and we reaffirm the timeless and essential role journalism and a free media play in societies everywhere.”
“Journalists uncover the truth, check the abuse of power, and demand transparency from those in power,” the statement said.
“They are indispensable to the functioning of democracy. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, journalists and media workers have been on the front lines to keep the public informed, at significant risk to their own health.
“And, at a time when the truth is increasingly under attack, our need for accurate, fact-based reporting, open public conversation, and accountability has never been greater. “
Biden went on to highlight that a “record number of journalists were imprisoned globally” in 2020, according to a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists published in December. That report found at least 274 journalists were in prison worldwide.
He also drew attention to the online harassment some journalists receive, mentioning women and people of color specifically.
“Authoritarians are striving to undermine the free press, manipulate the truth, or spread disinformation even as a shrinking news industry is creating more and more ‘news deserts,’ areas without local media, around the world,” Biden said.
“These attacks are nothing less than a threat to democracies everywhere.”
“Today, on World Press Freedom Day, we celebrate the fierce bravery of journalists everywhere,” he said.
“We recognize the integral role a free press plays in building prosperous, resilient and free societies. And we recommit to protecting and promoting free, independent, and diverse media around the world,” the statement concluded.
“President Biden’s statement is an important reminder of the essential value of press freedom and the role of the US in defending it,” said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, Program Director at the Committee to Protect Journalists, in a statement to Newsweek.
“It is critical for the safety of journalists around the world that his administration restores US press freedom leadership after the attacks on journalists and their work became a defining feature of the Trump years, and is vocal about its support of a free press as a matter of principle and a cornerstone of US foreign policy, one of the six steps we laid out in our White Paper released in November,” he said.
This year’s theme for World Press Freedom Day is “Information as a Public Good”, according to UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural and educational body. The day was declared by the U.N. General Assembly in 1993. It marks the date of the Windhoek Declaration – a statement of principles for the free press drawn up by African journalists in 1991.
“It calls attention to the essential role of free and professional journalists in producing and disseminating this information, by tackling misinformation and other harmful content,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.
5/3/21 11.36am E.T.: This article has been updated to include a statement from the Committee to Protect Journalists.