Schiff, Pence speak out for press freedom

By Frank Smyth/CPJ Washington Representative on May 5, 2009 3:24 PM ET

"Information is power, which is
precisely why many governments attempt to control the press to suppress
opposition and preempt dissent," said U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, the California
Democrat who three years ago founded the Congressional Caucus for Freedom of
the Press. "Far too often, the reporters and editors who demand reform,
accountability, and transparency find themselves at risk," he went on. "The
censorship, intimidation, imprisonment, and murder of these journalists are not
only crimes against these individuals, but they also impact those who are
denied access to their ideas and information."

The other caucus co-chairman is U.S. Rep. Mike
Pence, an Indiana Republican. "As a conservative who believes in limited
government, I believe the only check on government power in real time is a free
and independent press," said Pence." A free press ensures the flow of
information to the public, and let me say, during a time when the role of
government in our lives and in our enterprises seems to grow every day--both at
home and abroad--ensuring the vitality of a free and independent press is more
important than ever."

The House co-chairmen (the Senate co-chairs are
Chris Dodd and Richard Lugar) also issued a joint statement for World Press
Freedom Day on Sunday that cited the same figures noted last week by President Barack
Obama.  "Since this day was first celebrated, 692
journalists have been killed," reads the statement by Schiff and
Pence. "Adding to this tragic figure are the hundreds more each year who
face intimidation, censorship, and arbitrary arrest--guilty of nothing more than
a passion for truth and a tenacious belief that a free society depends on an
informed citizenry."

The co-chairmen raised
the case of Roxana Saberi, the journalist with dual U.S.
and Iranian citizen jailed in Tehran.
She is currently on a hunger
to protest her detention. Schiff and Pence also raised the
detentions of U.S. journalists
Ling and Euna Lee
in North
All three journalists are being held under dubious charges, according to
CPJ research. "We condemn these trumped-up charges and call
for the immediate release of these journalists," the two congressmen said.

The free
press co-chairmen also noted their recent introduction of the Daniel
Pearl Freedom of the Press Act
, which would, among other things, require
the State Department to provide a separate, annual report on press freedom
conditions worldwide to Congress. Pence noted his introduction of the Free
Flow of Information Act
, which has passed the House and is up for
consideration in the Senate. "The bill provides a qualified privilege of confidential
sources to journalist," said Pence, "which is sadly missing in federal law--and
enables reporters to shield sources in most instances from disclosure."

raised the case of a
Sri Lankan journalist
who has long written from a pro-Tamil viewpoint at
the same time that he has documented human rights abuses by Sri Lankan
government forces as well as by ethnic Tamil rebel forces known by their
acronym as the LTTE.

Tissainayagam, a contributor and editor for a number of print and online
publications, will stand trial on Wednesday, and he faces a possible 20-year
sentence if he is convicted. He is being prosecuted for allegedly
inciting communal disharmony
related to articles that he wrote as early as
in 2006," Schiff noted.  "In March of
2008, J.S. was arrested under emergency regulations and held without habeas
corpus for more than five months before being charged. His trial is set to
resume on May 6, but it is our hope the Sri Lankan government will drop these
baseless charges and release J.S. before the trial resumes."

Later this month, Schiff plans to host a Special Order Hour on the House
floor that will focus on press freedom abuses in Sri Lanka. Last year the free press
caucus founder focused a Special Order Hour on China as the world's leader jailer
of journalists. In 2007, Rep. Schiff devoted a Special Order Hour to Russia,
profiling journalists who were murdered.


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