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Sec. Albright On Freedom Of Expression

Op Ed for Diario las Americas
by Madeleine K. Albright
Secretary of State
December 5, 1999

"Insisting on the Importance of Freedom of Expression"

Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are fundamental to the principles and values that the United States promotes around the world.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, some are born with opinions, some develop opinions and all have opinions thrust upon them.

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights provides that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and to impart and receive ideas through the media. The very importance of this right is what causes dictators to want to suppress it. For to dictators, the truth is often inconvenient - and sometimes a mortal threat.

That is why so often they try to grab the truth and leash it like a dog, ration it like bread, or mold it like clay. Their goal is to create their own myths, conceal their own blunders, direct resentments elsewhere and instill in their people a dread of change.

Consider, for example, Serbia. For years, Slobodan Milosevic, now an indicted war criminal, has fed his people lies, while repressing and terrorizing those who sought the truth. Slavko Curuvija, a newspaper owner and critic of Milosevic, was murdered this spring -- after being harassed repeatedly by Serb authorities. Other independent voices, such as the opposition newspaper Glas Javnosti, have also been fiend or temporarily shut down.

In Cuba, it is hard for an honest person to get on a soapbox without having it yanked out from beneath. Numerous correspondents, including Raul Rivero and Manuel Gonzalez Castellanos and Jesus Joel Diaz Hernandez, have been arrested or detained for directly or indirectly criticizing Fidel Castro.

In Syria, the government arrested human rights journalist Nizar Nayyouf back in 1992. He is now near death after years of solitary confinement, torture and neglect.

Even in somewhat more open societies, criticizing the powers that be can be hazardous to your health and livelihood.

For instance, in Zimbabwe, two journalists, Mark Chadunduka and Ray Choto, were arrested, tortured and are now on trial for reporting on an alleged army plot to remove President Mugabe.

In Peru, television station owner Baruch Ivcher was stripped of his citizenship and forced into exile for reporting on allegations of government abuses including illegal wiretapping and torture.

Governments that respond to hostile or investigative reporting with threats and prosecutions betray their own insecurity and misuse power. No society can advance very far unless its government is accountable; and governments are not accountable unless journalists are able to do their jobs.

It is true that reporters and independent broadcasters are capable of abusing their rights, of poisoning the airwaves by inciting hate, spreading fear and telling lies. We have seen that happen this decade in, among other places, Rwanda.

Press codes that establish standards of professionalism and accountability can be a vital safeguard. And authorities should have the right to rebut, correct and argue with their critics. But they do not have the right simply to silence them.

This is a point we make to all countries, including our friends and allies, from Turkey to Ukraine.

Around the world, Americans may be proud that our diplomats regularly stress the importance of free speech and a free press. Both publicly and privately, we urge that the rights of journalists and other reporters be respected.

British author H.G. Wells wrote that "history [is] a race between education and catastrophe." Helping people to value democratic principles of tolerance and openness is a good way to aid us all in winning that race.

We are reminded daily that the quest for free expression must confront many hurdles and remains a long distance race. But with H.G. Wells' aphorism in mind, we must and will continue to educate, advocate and insist that global norms be respected.

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