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Diplomacy in Action

Google+ Hangout: World Press Freedom


Remarks
Douglas Frantz
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs
Washington, DC
May 2, 2014

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This video is available with captions on YouTube.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Thanks to everyone for joining us. First, I want to thank our three experts who are joining us – Carlos Lauria, from the Committee to Protect Journalists; Lotfullah Najafizada, from TOLOnews in Afghanistan; and Jason Mojica from VICE News, one of the more interesting news websites going these days. Thank all of – thanks to all three of you for joining us, and thanks to everyone who’s watching and others who will view this later. And thanks to Google as well for making this available.

Freedom of the press is a basic, universal right, and unfortunately, the trends that we’re seeing in some places around the world are not very good. Journalists are being intimidated, they’re being jailed, they’re being beaten. In some cases they’re being killed for simply trying to do their jobs, which is to get information out to people. We have seen this is Ukraine, we’ve seen it in Pakistan, we’ve seen it in Afghanistan, we’ve seen it in Egypt, we’ve seen it in Ethiopia, and in far too many other countries.

I was a newspaper reporter for 35 years, and so for me this is a personal issue. But in my position here as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs at the State Department, I also have a professional interest in this. The American Government is determined to help promote press freedom worldwide, and we find that in democracies press freedom, freedom of expression, are part of the underpinnings of good government. And we find that governments that allow freedom of expression are strong governments that listen to their people, those are strong governments; while governments that try to suppress freedom of information, that try to muzzle their press, that’s a symptom of governmental weakness. It’s not a matter of strength. Ultimately, history will tell these governments that they’ll fail. The conversation worldwide now is much broader and deeper than it’s ever been in history. Because of websites like VICE, because of TOLO Television, and because of so many other outlets, there are a million different voices out there, and no government is going to be able to stop them.

I’d like to open the – open this session with a question to Carlos. Yesterday, Freedom House, a nongovernmental organization here in Washington, released its annual report on press freedom around the world, and there were some troubling aspects to that. We heard from Freedom House that 2013 was the worst year in a long time for journalists in terms of beatings, jailings, killings, and other attempts to stop freedom of expression. So I’d like to kick this over to Carlos, who will, I think, talk about – give us his assessment from CPJ’s standpoint about how the situation looks both worldwide and in your area of expertise, the Americas. Thanks very much.

MR. LAURIA: Thank you. Thank you. And thanks for the U.S. State Department for providing this platform to discuss such critical issues for the state of democracy around the world.

As you said, yes, 2013 was a really bad year. In terms of the two main indicators for press freedom around the world, both are grim in terms of numbers – 70 journalists killed for their work in 2013, and more than 200 journalists imprisoned around the world. As journalists, many, many journalists are working independently outside mainstream media, blogging from around the world. This is becoming – they are becoming targets for criminal organizations in areas where there are conflicts. There are also targets from different insurgent groups. So the number of killings and the number of imprisoned journalists just speak for themselves in terms of the dangers that many reporters are facing while doing their jobs.

In the Americas, my area of responsibility, there’s still a lot of great investigative journalism, editorial independence, and critical coverage. But reporters from media outlets are still exposed to both violence and government repression. And I think that violence and official legal harassment are the main emerging trends in terms of the major challenges facing the press in the Americas. This is according to our research. And to throw there a few numbers – Mexico, a lively democracy, has seen a record number of killings and disappearances in the last few years. In the last seven years, 50 – more than 50 journalists have been killed or disappeared in Mexico. This is a terrible situation.

But I think the worst consequences of the wave of lethal violence affecting the press is the climate of fear and intimidation in which reporters and media outlets are exercising their work. This is a problem that has gone way beyond journalism, and it’s affecting fundamental human rights of all Mexican citizens, including journalists. And it’s limiting the discussion and issues of public interest, and democratic stability is what’s at risk in Mexico.

In terms of wave of violence, Central America is also seeing journalists killed in – especially, particularly in Honduras in the last few years. Colombia, while the number of dead journalists has receded in the last few years, the number of threats is up. And for journalists working in provincial areas, the work of investigating and covering sensitive issues is still very risky.

In terms of other countries, Brazil is a country where there’s some vibrant press, great investigative work, but there’s violence too. There’s escalating violence against reporters, different from other parts of the world – not only from the Americas, but different from other parts of the world. While the level of violence is still unacceptable, in terms of impunity, which is a problem, a real problem, many cases in Brazil have been solved. So the justice is working slowly, but it’s giving responses.

And I will say the other problem – to leave it there, the other problem we are seeing is government repression. And we’re seeing what’s going on in Venezuela. The last 15 years in Venezuela, there has been many problems for journalists. There’s been increasing censorship, government interference. Media outlets are being closed, journalists sued for the information, and really a reduced number of independent outlets that can do their work freely. That’s a real problem. It has been worse since President Maduro took office, and we are really worried about what’s going on there.

Similar to what’s going on in Venezuela, Ecuador has been – the situation in Ecuador has deteriorated in the last few years.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Thanks very much, Carlos. I think I would like to underscore one key point that you made, and that is that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are only part of the underpinnings of democracy. And so often in countries where we see a press that’s not free and where we see people who are not allowed to speak their minds, we also see that rule of law is not respected, that tolerance is not in any abundance, and that human rights and political speech are also restricted. So this is part of a broad fabric of democracy that, when you start to pull away at one of these threads, like freedom of the press, so much of the rest of that comes down with it. And so there are concerns for people who just aren’t worried about free press. They should – there are also concerns that flow over into all the other aspects of democracy.

As far as violence against reporters, I think, Jason, you’ve got folks all over the world now, and particularly we’ve been focused on Simon Ostrovsky’s case in the Ukraine. I’m very glad to see that he was released a few days ago and he seems no worse for the wear, but it was, nonetheless, a chilling story. And I know that you had some personal entanglements a few years ago as well. So maybe you can talk to us about the difficulties that VICE faces in trying to cover the world from the front lines.

MR. MOJICA: Yeah. Sure. I think you said something interesting earlier when you described a journalist job as getting information out there, and that is one part of the job, and I always saw my job when I was in the field as trying to find out information that other people don’t necessarily want me to find out. And I think that when you – that is an action that is often met with an equal and opposite reaction, and we shouldn’t be surprised about that, but it becomes more problematic when there is an overreaction to journalists trying to do their jobs, and that’s something that we saw in the case of Simon Ostrovsky, a VICE news reporter who was working in eastern Ukraine. He was in Slovyansk.

For those who don’t know the story, he was detained along with a bunch of other journalists at a checkpoint, and it turned out that, in fact, they had basically a wanted poster for Simon and were looking for him. So it was in direct response to the aggressive reporting that he had done, and he was held hostage, frankly, for a number of days and beaten and blindfolded and interrogated and threatened, and was held incommunicado. We had no proof of life from him during that time. It was very scary for all of us and we’re very happy to have him out. And yeah, and I’ve had limited experiences in that same – in the detention department in Egypt, where also a number of Al Jazeera journalists are being held now for more than a hundred days.

So, yeah, it’s a dangerous thing and it – so again, like I said, journalists are not necessarily always the most polite group of people. We’re aggressive. We have a chip on our shoulder sometimes. We’re pushy. We’re nosy. And it’s understandable that they’re not always liked by the people that they’re reporting on or even the governments that they’re working – the countries they’re working in. But how a government and law enforcement officials treat journalists speaks volumes about how – the country itself.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Yeah. I think that’s right. And you made – let me pick up on a couple of points that you made. When you were defining a journalist’s job as getting people to tell them things that they don’t necessarily want to talk about, I spent most of my career as an investigative reporter, and that’s always a hard job to define, but you touched very closely to the definition that I settled on very early, and that is that an investigative reporter is someone who persuades someone to tell them what they don’t want them to know. And so often, it’s easy to sit here in Washington or other capitals for reporters and take the leaks and stuff, but it’s the journalists who go out there and push harder who get themselves in dangerous situations far too often, far too often.

And the second thing I wanted to pick up on is the idea of how governments treat bad news or news they don’t like, and that happens all the time. And as a State Department official, I read stories, I watch news clips and listen to radio broadcasts fairly often that I don’t necessarily like, that I may not agree with, that I may even find inaccurate. But because I happen to have the good fortune to work in a democracy and live in a democracy, we don’t go down and beat up those reporters. We don’t try to put them in jail. We don’t try and close their publications or shut down their outlets. I think that’s how democracies behave.

And so I think this is a good segue into Lotfullah in Afghanistan, who can talk to us about, I hope, the experience that TOLO TV has had. And I think it’s – from a State Department perspective, it’s one of the great success stories of our time in Afghanistan because we provided, I think, some initial training to help Afghan journalists step up their games, and it’s one of those efforts on – by the government that has mushroomed. It’s outgrown any need for any government involvement and has really become a bright, shining star in Afghanistan.

So, Lotfullah, I will turn it over to you, please.

MR. NAJAFIZADA: Well, I think – I mean, I have a bit of a – to be honest, a success story when it comes to press freedom in Afghanistan. Twelve years ago, the country was totally in a different shape. We have more than 10,000 journalists a day working here. We produce more than 200 hours of news and current affairs content a day. And that is just phenomenal. I mean, during the Taliban, and even before that, the people of Afghanistan really didn’t have that voice.

So this voice is not necessarily just a strengthening the democracy, but transforming the nation – transforming the nation in a way that the youth are grown up in an environment that press freedom is understood as a basic right for them. So this is – for a new generation in Afghanistan, this is totally a given right. And now, for us it’s very hard to simply reverse it. And this is something that – which is achieved in the past 12 years or so due to certain hardships and challenges. As Carlos said, we’ve lost journalists in covering the war with – lost journalists in crossfire with the Taliban, and we have lost journalists around the country involving warlords and others as well. But looking at the overall picture, I think what you see today is probably not what you had really expected a decade ago. So it has really given the Afghan people an opportunity to come out and speak, criticize the government, and try to make the government accountable.

And very successfully recently with the elections, what media did was an instrumental role in generating a higher turnout, encouraging people to go out and vote and choose the next five years instead of just what was happening around the election day. So it was helping with the awareness, it was helping with the dialogue. And during the campaign, it really helped the campaign to be policy-driven rather than personality, and it was such a positive campaign in Afghanistan’s – as far as politics.

And that’s all because of the sacrifices and the efforts of the Afghan media as a whole. And I think in our part of the world, it’s a success story. Afghanistan has one of the freest press in the region in comparison to our neighbors in the north, in comparison to Iran, for instance, in the west, and to a degree with Pakistan. I mean, we really don’t have a lot of influence by the government and states and institutions on the media.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: I’d like to play off that comparison with Pakistan, if you don’t mind, for just a minute. When I was a reporter in Pakistan and Afghanistan, those were days when the Taliban was posting night letters in villages and making specific threats against people who spoke out, when there were efforts to close down cell phone towers at night and things like that. My sense is the situation has gotten better for you in Afghanistan over the last couple of years, and I wonder, first, whether you’re getting direct threats from the Taliban.

And then the second things is, to go to Pakistan, I mean, for some reason it seems to me that journalists in Pakistan are targeted for killing and beating on a basis that is more regular, more systematic than is happening even in Afghanistan. In the last six years, thirty-four Pakistani journalists have been murdered. So I wonder if you could talk, please, Lotfullah, about both of those issues.

MR. NAJAFIZADA: I think on the first one – I mean, a lot of journalists in Afghanistan believe that the Taliban primarily exists in the waves of media. I mean, they exist in the headline; they exist in the coverage than on the ground in comparison to what really they do. So that’s why the Taliban has appreciated that, and they haven’t really started targeting journalists very directly.

However, I mean, we’ve had examples of very discriminant attacks on the journalists by the Taliban. One very recently – our very dear colleague and fellow journalist Sardar Ahmad was killed in the attack on the Serena Hotel. So such things have happened. I mean, we can’t say the Taliban is not a threat to journalists. They are. But I think their access to really make that threat to a degree is limited to the journalists in the cities. But our journalists in the provinces do have such concerns, do get weird phone calls, do get letters sometimes, and that don’t come from the Taliban only, but there are other local factors which pose similar threats to the journalists.

But I think as a larger or a national picture, if you would like to draw, you really can’t say that the Taliban is creating a major problem for the journalists who really do what they have to do. So really – I really don’t think that that threat is there.

On the Pakistani thing, I think --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Hello? I think we lost him for a minute. When he comes back, he’ll talk to us about Pakistan. Carlos, let me bring it back to you for a second.

MR. LAURIA: Sure.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: And I mean, what – CPJ not only monitors what’s going on with journalists worldwide. You provide instructions and training for journalists to help keep them secure. And the State Department does this too. I was on a recent trip and one of my stops was in Tbilisi, Georgia, where the State Department is financing a program of physical security and digital security for journalists there, so they can learn really how to protect their information and themselves when governments go astray. What sort of advice does CPJ give for journalists who are in dangerous situations? How can you do your job and protect yourself at the same time, if you can?

MR. LAURIA: Right. Well, yeah. What we basically do is monitor press freedom conditions and speak out when a journalist is killed, incarcerated, disappeared, censored, sued for defamation, et cetera. We do not provide training. What we have done through our senior advisor for journalist security is a very comprehensive journalist security guide. This was done initially, originally for journalists covering the Iraq war, but it was re-launched a few years ago for – so it can be a manual that can help journalists covering different kind of conflicts, and it’s a very comprehensive guide.

Frank’s my CPJ senior advisor for security, did a great job, and it’s a – it covers many different things: how to prepare for a conflict, with advice to foreign correspondents, to local journalists, insurance coverage, medical care and vaccinations, personal precautions; how to assess and respond to risk; information security, which is very important; how to understand a threat; how to protect communications; how to defend your data, protecting external data, right? Many other chapters, including how to prepare and how to protect yourself when you cover organized crime and corruption, when you cover civil matters and disturbances; risks for those journalists and reporters covering natural disasters, health epidemic and mass hazards, sustained risks, and obviously armed conflict.

The security manual is on our website: www.cpj.org, and translated into Spanish and soon into Portuguese.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: I think it could be useful in many other languages too because of what’s going on around the world.

Lotfullah, are you back with us?

MR. NAJAFIZADA: Yes, I am. My apologies for (inaudible).

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Can you talk to us, just give us a sense of the difference between Afghanistan and Pakistan now for the press?

MR. NAJAFIZADA: Yeah. So what I’ll say – (inaudible) cut off, but I was just saying that the maturity that the journalists have in Pakistan is relatively lacking in Afghanistan because of the experience they have. But they do have a relatively better relationship when it comes to dealing with government institutions.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Would you mind --

MR. NAJAFIZADA: In Pakistan, especially (inaudible) and security, the journalist is very (inaudible) restrictions, and they have to deal with different layers to (inaudible) --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: We’ve got a bunch of static here. Jason, can you mute when you’re not talking? I’ll come to you in a second. See if that helps us. There we go. Okay, Lotfullah, I’m – I apologize. That was on our end.

MR. NAJAFIZADA: I was saying basically there are two things I would like to add when it comes to dealing – when you make a comparison between the Afghan media and the Pakistani media. So the relationship between the Afghan journalists and the government institutions is much better than the ones they have in Pakistan, but when it comes to maturity of journalists, when it comes to quality of reporting, when it comes to investigative stories, when it comes to the volume of journalistic content produced, I think Pakistan is in a relatively much better state.

But on two fronts, security and foreign policy are the issues that the Pakistani journalists have severe problems. I have journalists – I have friends in Pakistan who have to really double-check their stories on foreign policy, especially related to Afghanistan or India, with certain institutions within the country, within the establishment. Those restrictions aren’t here, so that’s why, I mean, we are – I mean, I consider myself as a free journalist, that I can do whatever I want when it comes to criticizing whoever in the government, from the president down to any official, and that tolerance is generated, which is a very big success. I think we should give that credit to President Karzai somehow, for telling his ministers and the other officials to really tolerate that, and reminding them that we are a developing democracy and that has to be tolerated. We’ve had examples of ministers being fired because of a certain news story coming out related to corruptions or mishandling of the job.

So these things are phenomenal, I think great success stories. But is it fragile? I think still yes. How the political transition is going to go ahead is a big question. However, we’ve had, as I said earlier, a big success with the elections – a great turnout, great media coverage. The people of Afghanistan really had a great voice.

On the election day, very quickly, we had a woman, probably a 70-year-old woman from Mazar-e Sharif in the north, talking live to one of our journalists there, that why she was voting. She was saying that I really don’t vote for myself, I vote for my children, I vote for my grandchildren, and that is the future. So the media has given the opportunity to people like her and thousands of others in the country to really have a voice. During the communism, during the Talibanism, that voice wasn’t there.

So I think I can speak of a lot of success stories about press freedom and the state of media. So hopefully it’s going to continue. Some of the media outlets would probably shut down because of financial issues once – after 2014. But the ones who have established good management and adopted good business models would continue. So in terms of, I think, quality, it would still go on. But in terms of quantity, we would see certain changes.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: I think the point that you made about giving voice to that 70-year-old woman is what we all do as journalists. I mean, that’s why journalists are out there, risking their lives in some cases, to give people a voice. That’s what democracy is about, and that’s, again, to come back and make a plug for my employer, that’s why the State Department promotes freedom of expression. That’s why we’re focusing attention on World Press Day tomorrow and on training journalists, and – so I think that Afghanistan is a success story, and I think you just gave a definition for a journalist’s job that all of us can embrace, that’s for sure.

Let me pick up on another theme that you raised there, and that is self-censorship. I have many friends among the Pakistani journalism fraternity, and I was back – I was there in December. One of the people with whom I had lunch was Hamid Mir, who, as we all know, was attacked and seriously wounded in April in Karachi. But in talking to them privately, not necessarily Hamid but to others, there is a self-censorship that goes on in Pakistan because of fear. We can look at Cairo, where four Al Jazeera journalists have been in jail for far too long for simply doing their jobs. And we can see there that not only has that had a bad effect on Al Jazeera, but it’s caused self-censorship among other journalists as well. You become fearful that telling the truth is going to wind you up behind bars. And that’s a tragedy, and that’s a weakness for the Egyptian Government, and that is something that does not serve democracy or the principles of a democratic government that the Egyptian people have been fighting for.

So I want to toss this to you, Jason, for a second. And after Simon’s kidnapping and illegal arrest and detainment, has that put a chill on your reporting? Has that – is that going to make a difference in how you send people out into the field and what you tell them to do?

MR. MOJICA: I mean, you want to answer that question two ways. You want to say, yes, we’re going to look after our people and be very cautious and make sure that no one gets hurt. So we won’t be sending Simon back to the eye of the storm, as he was – had a big target on his head. But we will, of course, find ways to continue coverage of important stories. Because in that case in particular, it wasn’t just a random situation in which a journalist got injured or was treated unfairly; it was a specific reaction to aggressive reporting, and – so the desired outcome was to put a stop to that reporting. So you certainly don’t want to give in to those kinds of demands or basically give those people what they want.

So there’s that case. I’ve actually lost track of the question, I’m sorry. Can you say again? How will it affect –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: It was about – how do you advise – how you advise your reporters when they go out in the field. Has the – did the kidnapping of Simon cause you to re-evaluate the situations in which you’re going to send reporters now?

MR. MOJICA: Sure. I mean, look – all of our journalists get, of course, your hostile environment training, and also we go through just a very elaborate kind of security assessment beforehand. And everyone – and there’s a rapid response team to things when they do happen. But again, it’s the sort of situation where people who are in this line of work do have an understanding of what we’re getting into and the risks and of course, it becomes – I guess the only thing that we’re a bit more careful about it just kind of trying to assess the risks versus rewards, the value of the story, the value of poking the bear with the video camera, as someone said of Simon’s reporting. And – because we’re not cowboys and we’re – no, we don’t have – our journalists certainly don’t have a death wish. So it’s difficult to find that balance between doing a damn good job of reporting and getting yourself kidnapped. So yeah, we’re – we try to – we err on the side of caution. I will say that.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: It is – it’s a very difficult balance. I mean, I think my years in the field –

MR. MOJICA: Now I think we’ve lost your audio.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: -- as a reporter covering wars – my years in the field covering wars, it was very easy to charge in to any place. When I became managing editor of The Los Angeles Times

MR. MOJICA: I’m not – I can’t hear you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: -- and I was placed with – you can’t hear me? No, I think it was just you. I think I’m making sense to everybody else in the world but you, Jason. When I became managing editor of The Los Angeles Times, we had reporters still in Iraq covering the war, and we had reporters in Afghanistan covering the war. And when they wanted risky assignments, you’re sitting in an office in LA. You have to weigh a lot of different factors before you do that. We had – at the LA Times we had a reporter who had been in Baghdad for several years. And I thought, frankly, that she was burned out and that she needed to get out of there, and that she’d really dodged enough bullets. And so I moved her to the awful location of Paris. And unfortunately, she felt it was necessary – so necessary to cover that war that she jumped to another newspaper and returned to Baghdad, and then to Afghanistan. So it’s – covering a war is the highest calling for journalists. It’s also the riskiest, and it’s a hard thing, I think, to manage from afar.

Carlos, let me ask you, if I may, to sort of broaden your portfolio a little bit and talk about what you’re seeing in Syria and what CPJ is hearing about the very dangerous situation for journalists there.

MR. LAURIA: Sure. Well, as you – as all of you know, the situation in Syria is really dramatic for journalists, a record number of journalists killed in Syria. As our report on impunity index has recently noted, more than 60 media fatalities by crossfire and dangerous assignments and an unprecedented number of abductions. This has made Syria really the most dangerous country in the world for the press.

It’s a really tragic situation. And the perpetrators come from all sides. That’s the most problematic thing – known Syrian Islamist militant groups, rebels targeting pro-government media, and even President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. And victims include, obviously, reporters for citizen media outlets and many, many other journalists that are documenting the unrest since the uprising began in March 2011.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Okay. Thank you very much. I think we all share your very deep concerns about what’s happening in Syria. It’s such an important story that we can’t ignore it, but it’s also a hugely dangerous story for the reasons that you just stated. Let me come back, Lotfullah, if I may, and ask you: Are there no-go zones in Afghanistan? Are there places in the country where you just can’t send reporters?

MR. NAJAFIZADA: Yes, but very small number of areas overall that are both in Afghanistan and probably in Pakistan that journalists can’t really go, not necessarily because of security reasons but also logistical reasons and the other complexities, cultural, for instance, you have in those areas.

For instance, now there is – a catastrophic landslide happened in the northern Afghanistan, whereabouts, as initial reports say, 2,000 people have been killed and trapped. We just had a journalist who is on his way now to northern Afghanistan, and we have, to be honest, disconcert whether he’s going to make it safe. I mean, our people are in contact with different police units on the way to ensure they arrive safely. So that concern is there, but I think it is always dealt with a way which does not prevent the operation.

There are places in the south, for instance, where there is no government presence. I mean, we literally can’t send a journalist unless there are certain guarantees that actually they are going to be safe. On the border area with Pakistan, for instance, is one of the very dangerous areas because of the presence of different militant groups. We have certain obstacles reporting from those areas. But the tactic or the strategy we use is to hire journalists from those areas. So they are part of this complexity, they know the terrain, they know the people, and they have certain contacts with this part of – this side of the conflict or the other. So that makes the job a little bit easier. However, we have to depend on the quality of the work they do and the training they have, for instance, the limited resources they have in those areas.

But I mean, there isn’t a blackout, to be honest, in one part of the country that we can say there is no report coming out of that particular issue or about that particular province or district. We have about five bureaus in different part of the country and another 10 provincial reporters covering two or three provinces each.

So there is a very national presence, I mean, as a conclusion. But very specifically to your question, I think the travel both in Pakistan and the eastern part of the country in Afghanistan are the areas that the Afghan and Pakistani journalists have – we have issues traveling to.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Thank you very much. We’re just about out of time, so let me give you the last word, Jason, if I may. And your website – and for people who haven’t seen it yet, go visit. It’s really dynamic and very interesting. But you’re aimed at, I don’t know, I guess a younger demographic, certainly younger than I am. And what are you finding about their appetite for news around the world? I mean, what are you finding about how closely they’re watching the reporting that you’re doing from Ukraine and other hotspots? And are you able to sort of figure out whether there is/isn’t an appetite for a generation that many of us worry aren’t quite as willing to be engaged in the world?

MR. MOJICA: Yeah, sure. I think – I mean, we’ve all heard this notion that young people aren’t interested in the news or aren’t interested in international news, or you’ve even heard that about Americans in general. And I think the success of vicenews.com has really shown that that’s simply not true. Yeah, there is an incredible appetite for international stories, stories about politics, about climate change, about crisis and conflict. People want to know what’s going on around them, and a lot of the media on offer at least in the U.S. doesn’t really provide them with that. So I mean nothing makes me happier than to be able to provide that for our generation.

A quick – to that end also, there’s a lot of interest for news out of Afghanistan in particular – and where – and TOLOnews does an incredible job of that in Dari, and I know Lotfullah – when we’ve worked together in Kabul before, and – but I’m very concerned about the chilling effect of kind of recent attacks in Kabul that that has had on people able to get those stories out or perhaps, like, news organizations, even ours, get a little bit more worried about sending people to those situations.

So I think we have a lot of challenges ahead of us and they’re not necessarily new challenges; they’re the challenges I’m sure you dealt with during your time at the Times. They will – we’ll be dealing with these challenges from time immemorial. And I think maybe the most – the thing that has given me the greatest bit of optimism is that there is an audience for these stories that people are working so hard to get, that are risking their lives to get. We’re not just telling them to other journalists at the bar. This is not just an echo chamber. There are people who are hungry for this information and who are engaging with that information and doing more than simply watching the news. They’re sharing it, they’re commenting it. It’s informing their conversations and we’ve seen – here we are. I mean, it’s – 10 years ago I certainly wouldn’t have thought that I would be on a Google Hangout with a State Department official discussing these issues. And meanwhile a bunch of other people are watching around the world and commenting on Twitter. And so it’s an exciting time to be doing this work.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Well, you summed it up very well and thank you. And I want thank all three of you for participating, and more importantly, I want to thank all
the journalists who are risking their lives every day to bring us the news that we need to make informed decisions. And thanks to them, thanks to the families of those who’ve made sacrifices, and maybe next world press freedom day, we’ll have a better story to report.

Thank you all very much.



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