US President Barack Obama [official profile] on Monday signed into law the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act [HR 3714 materials], aimed at promoting worldwide press freedom and drawing attention to countries where journalists are threatened, harmed, or censored. The law requires the secretary of state to submit an annual report to Congress detailing a description of the freedom of the press in each country, identifying countries where there have been violations of press freedom, and how the governments of the countries violating press freedom are responding to the violations. The law also establishes a grant program aimed at promoting press freedom. Critics of the law claim it takes no tangible steps toward promoting press freedom, but the co-sponsors of the bill indicated the law is a good first step, stating [press release]:
We hope this legislation will help the United States work with other nations to better protect [journalists] serving on the frontlines in the fight for greater accountability and transparency. Freedom of expression cannot exist where journalists are not safe from persecution and attack. Our government must promote freedom of the press by putting on center stage those countries in which journalists are killed, imprisoned, kidnapped, threatened, or censored.The legislation is named after Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl [JURIST news archive] who was murdered after being abducted in Pakistan in 2002 while reporting on events following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US.
The US reports on press freedom will join those issued annually by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) [advocacy website] detailing the rankings of press freedom worldwide. In addition to their annual rankings, earlier this month, RSF issued a list of threats to press freedom [JURIST report]. Last month, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ordered the government of Azerbaijan [JURIST report] to secure the immediate release of imprisoned Azeri journalist Eynulla Fatuallyev, who was jailed on what many international organizations claim are spurious charges. Also last month, many rights groups expressed concern [JURIST report] over a Fiji draft bill that would allow the government to sentence journalists to up to five years in prison for publishing controversial content and require them to reveal sources of information. In March, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] urged the Cuban government [JURIST report] to allow more freedom of expression and release those jailed for criticizing the government.