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Kaine, Graham Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Promote International Press Freedom

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced the International Press Freedom Act of 2021, a bipartisan bill that would promote global press freedom by creating a Coordinator for International Press Freedom at the State Department. The legislation would also authorize new funding for programs that help keep foreign journalists safe; use existing funding to prevent, investigate, and prosecute crimes against journalists overseas; and create a new visa category to allow threatened journalists to come to the U.S. 

“Enshrined in both our Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, press freedom is a core American value that we must constantly promote around the globe,” said Kaine. “With this bill, our country will let journalists know that we will protect their right to report and offer safe harbor when they are threatened.” 

“We applaud Senator Kaine and Senator Graham for their bipartisan leadership,” said Annie Boyajian, Director of Advocacy at Freedom House. “As global democracy declines for the 15th consecutive year and authoritarian leaders intensify repressive tactics at home and abroad, the need to protect journalists and support independent media is urgent. The International Press Freedom Act would strengthen U.S. efforts to promote press freedom and provide crucial resources to assist journalists under threat. We are pleased to support this bill and urge its swift passage into law.” 

“Journalists around the world face unprecedented challenges that threaten their ability to safely and effectively perform their duties,” said Michael De Dora, Washington Advocacy Manager for the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Given its commitments and role in the world, it is imperative that the U.S. do all it can to protect independent media and the free flow of information. This bill would bolster U.S. foreign diplomacy on global press freedom, and provide additional support to at-risk journalists who desperately need it. We urge Congress to give this bill the serious consideration it deserves.” 

Monday, May 3rd is World Press Freedom Day. According to a metric created by Reporters without Borders, the level of media freedom worldwide has declined by 12% since 2013. Currently, 387 journalists are imprisoned worldwide, and last year, 50 were killed in countries not at war. In February, the Biden Administration declassified an intelligence report confirming that Saudia Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman ordered the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Virginia resident and journalist. This legislation expands and creates a dedicated fund for State Department programs to protect threatened journalists and requires the State Department to direct some of its existing law enforcement assistance towards preventing and solving crimes against journalists.  While foreign journalists can currently apply for refugee status, the wait to be resettled can last years or decades.

To address these shortfalls in the current system, the International Press Freedom Act of 2021 would: 

  • Create an Office for Press Freedom, headed by a Coordinator, within the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
  • Establish an At-Risk Journalists Fund. For the next five years, $30 million per year would be authorized under this fund to assist at-risk journalists in either safely reporting from restrictive environments or relocating on a short- or medium-term basis to preserve their life or safety.
  • Help prevent, investigate, and prosecute crimes against journalists. The bill would direct the Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) to determine the top 10 countries for threats against journalists and devote at least 10% of INL’s budget in those countries for preventing, investigating, and prosecuting crimes against journalists. The bill would also require an annual report on the success in using these funds.
  • Provide threatened journalists refuge in the U.S. by creating an I-2 subcategory of nonimmigrant visas for threatened journalists. Threatened journalists, their spouses, and their children could use these visas to come to the U.S. (or adjust their immigration status if they are already present) if the Secretary of State, International Press Freedom Coordinator, or U.S. ambassador overseas determines that their life or safety is at risk in their country of origin and the assistance programs in Section 4 are not sufficient to address that risk. The Department of Homeland Security would also report annually on the number of journalists issued an I-2 visa or admitted under humanitarian parole, and the Government Accountability Office would report every three years on the I-2 and humanitarian parole processes.
  • Train refugee officers on threats faced by journalists.
  • Train Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) on the value of freedom of expression and threats to journalists in the country where the FSOs are posted.

The full text of the International Press Freedom Act of 2021 is available here.