Press Freedom as a National and Global Security Priority


On April 27, Meridian's Global Journalism Initiative hosted Ned Price, Spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, and Emily Horne, Spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, for an insightful conversation on press freedom as a hallmark of democracy and key national security priority. Moderated by The Economist’s James Bennet, the conversation emphasized many of the central themes of the upcoming World Press Freedom Day and highlighted the importance of a robust press in holding policymakers within the U.S. and around the globe accountable to their citizens. This program was part of the Meridian Global Journalism Initiative, which builds on Meridian’s work over the last 20 years to develop international journalists’ reporting capacity while strengthening shared values of democracy, press freedom and combating disinformation in the U.S. and around the world.

Below are the top takeaways from the conversation:
1. PRESS FREEDOM IS A HALLMARK OF DEMOCRACY. A free and robust press plays an essential role in building and maintaining a strong democracy, for it pushes for transparency and ensures government accountability to its citizens. As both Emily Horne and Ned Price reflected in their remarks, a free press plays an important role in building community and civil dialogue, ensuring that the public operates from a shared set of facts, and providing strong checks and balances in the governing process by publicizing policy decisions. Emily Horne advocated for a robust local press within the United States, asserting that media deserts and the decrease in local journalism across the country has undermined civic discourse by limiting the local reporting that builds community advocacy and contextualizes global stories for local context.

2. GOVERNMENT NEEDS REPORTERS, NOT STENOGRAPHERS. While preparing for frequent press briefings can be challenging, both speakers highlighted the importance of committing to consistent press engagement and to answering tough questions. Emily Horne noted that there will always be times when a spokesperson is unable to comment on a current event or issue due to laws, norms, or security concerns, but asserted that government needs journalists who are willing to push them on issues on behalf of the public and not simply repeat the administration’s message. Free press also plays an important role in shaping policy, as knowing that they will face tough questions can motivate policymakers to make better policy choices.
3. ADAPTING TO A VIRTUAL NEWS ENVIRONMENT. Although adapting to a virtual environment due to COVID-19 has posed many challenges, both the State Department and National Security Council have used this opportunity to expand press outreach through technology. Virtual briefings have expanded press access to local, international, and independent media outlets that traditionally lack access and Secretary Blinken has utilized online meetings to engage with journalists from around the world, including during his recent virtual trip to Kenya and Nigeria. This evolving media environment has also enabled increased engagement with foreign press, especially as American embassies around the world expand and localize their social media engagement, as recently highlighted in the Meridian Diplomacy Forum.

4. ACCURATE INFORMATION IS THE ANTIDOTE TO MISINFORMATION. In the face of both accidental or naïve misinformation online and purposeful disinformation campaigns maliciously crafted, publicizing accurate information has become more important than ever. Speakers highlighted the administration’s expanded use of social media to share factual information and combat misinformation, such as this Twitter thread correcting confusion on the role of the Defense Production Act. They also noted that coordinating statements with American allies and declassifying intelligence reports with key information can help share facts with the public and thus combat disinformation campaigns organized by American adversaries. Furthermore, when unable to formally comment or issue an official statement, going on background can be a useful means of providing broader context on a breaking story or preventing the spread of misinformation.

5. ADVOCATING FOR PRESS FREEDOM AROUND THE WORLD. While journalists in the United States are protected by constitutional frameworks and strong media organizations, many reporters around the world face perilous threats from their own governments and often lack robust institutional support. As the Biden administration centers human rights in its foreign policy, advocating for press protections internationally, as in the case of the imprisonment of Vietnamese journalists, will be a key priority. By respecting foreign press based in the U.S. and meeting with journalists around the world, the U.S. can demonstrate to allies and adversaries its support of global press freedoms and thus help protect reporters facing restrictions or persecution from their governments.

Project summary

Press Freedom as a National and Global Security Priority | April 2021
Number of Attendees: 37
Regions: Africa, East Asia and Pacific, Europe and Eurasia, South and Central Asia, Western Hemisphere
Countries: Algeria, Austria, United States, Hungary, Indonesia, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Peru, Portugal, Singapore, Slovenia, Somalia, Sweden
Impact Areas: Media and Journalism
Program Areas: Diplomatic Engagement