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#RememberWhen: Secretary of State Answers Questions on World Press Freedom Day

Posted: 3:04 pm ET
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Via state.gov:

May 3rd marks the annual commemoration of World Press Freedom Day. The United States values freedom of the press as a key component of democratic governance. Democratic societies are not infallible, but they are accountable, and the exchange of ideas is the foundation for accountable governance. In the U.S. and in many places around the world, the press fosters active debate, provides investigative reporting, and serves as a forum to express different points of view, particularly on behalf of those who are marginalized in society. The U.S. commends journalists around the world for the important role they play, and for their commitment to the free exchange of ideas.

The U.S. in particular salutes those in the press who courageously do their work at great risk. The press is often a target of retaliation by those who feel threatened by freedom of expression and transparency in democratic processes. Journalists are often the first to uncover corruption, to report from the front lines of conflict zones, and to highlight missteps by governments. This work places many journalists in danger, and it is the duty of governments and citizens worldwide to speak out for their protection and for their vital role in open societies.

Below is a photo of then Secretary Kerry taking questions from reporters after his remarks on World Press Freedom Day last year. There is no such event this year.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry listens to a question from AP reporter Matt Lee after the Secretary’s remarks on World Press Freedom Day at the top of the Daily Press Briefing at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 3, 2016. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Secretary Tillerson who has a documented aversion to journalists released a statement marking World Press Freedom Day:

Today, on World Press Freedom Day, we reaffirm our commitment to promoting the fundamental principles of a free press around the world. We honor those men and women who work tirelessly, often at great personal risk, to tell the stories we would not otherwise hear. They are the guardians of democratic values and ideals.

The United States has a strong track record of advocating for and protecting press freedom. The U.S. Department of State offers development programs and exchanges for media professionals, supports the free flow of information and ideas on the internet, and provides the tools and resources needed to keep journalists safe.

Ethical and transparent media coverage is foundational to free and open societies. It promotes accountability and sparks public debate. Societies built on good governance, strong civil society, and an open and free media are more prosperous, stable, and secure.

For five years ending in 2016, the State Department had a “Free The Press” campaign timed for World Press Freedom Day. It usually highlights for a week — at the Daily Press Briefing leading up to May 3rd — various journalists and media outlets (including bloggers) who are censored, attacked, threatened, intimidated, imprisoned, or otherwise oppressed because of their reporting.  DRL’s https://www.humanrights.gov does not have anything on this campaign for 2017 so this annual campaign is effectively done and over.

Some parts of the organization, are nonetheless doing the best they can to mark May 3rd. Share America, part of IIP, the foreign public facing arm of arm of the State Department is doing this:

And one of the two remaining under secretaries at State did this with BBG:

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Burn Bag: What right does this U.S. mission have to prior restraint?

Via Burn Bag:

An eligible family member (EFM) overseas (not employed by a US mission) was recently told she had to submit an article she had written to the Ambassador and the regional bureau for review. The article had nothing to do with policy, the host country, or anything approaching privileged information. Nevertheless, the Ambassador, who had no particular expertise in the subject, sent changes back to the author. The EFM was also instructed that her co-author would also need clearance from her post and bureau.

When is this ridiculous overreach going to stop?

The FAM says nothing about Foreign Service spouses having to seek pre-publication review. Why are they expected to get clearance for their writing even when they are not employed by a U.S. mission and are not working for the U.S. Government?

 

The State Department’s pre-publication review has three purposes per 3 FAM 4170:

The personal capacity public communications review requirement is intended to serve three purposes: 1) to determine whether the communication would disclose classified or other protected information without authorization; 2) to allow the Department to prepare to handle any potential ramifications for its mission or employees that could result from the proposed public communication; or, 3) in rare cases, to identify public communications that are highly likely to result in serious adverse consequences to the mission or efficiency of the Department, such that the Secretary or Deputy Secretary must be afforded the opportunity to decide whether it is necessary to prohibit the communication (see 3 FAM 4176.4).

 

May 3 – World Press Freedom Day 2017: Critical Minds for Critical Times

Posted: 2:36 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’]

 

World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference. Since then, 3 May, the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek is celebrated worldwide as World Press Freedom Day. (via)

The UN says that World Press Freedom Day is an opportunity to:

  • celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom;
  • assess the state of press freedom throughout the world;
  • defend the media from attacks on their independence;
  • and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Read more about this year’s themes in the  Concept note.  Meanwhile, around the world, press freedom has deteriorated, and has declined to the lowest point in 13 years.

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With Reported Proposal to Cut 2,300 @StateDept Jobs, Tillerson Set to Survey Employees

Posted: 2:31 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’]

 

Via AP:

One U.S. diplomat said people were “enraged” by a report that indicated Tillerson is unhappy with how much the U.S. spends on housing and schooling for the families of employees overseas, even though those diplomats often serve in tough conditions. The diplomat added that staffers were told they could not, for now, fill empty jobs with the qualified spouses of diplomats — a long-running State initiative — because Tillerson aides “think it’s a ‘jobs program.’” “They’ve got it exactly backwards,” the diplomat said. “These are not jobs we’re creating to give spouses and partners work. They are jobs we desperately need filled, and we’re saving the U.S. government money and improving morale by hiring spouses.”

So the State Department ignored our question on the “corporate welfare” rumor but Tilleron’s aides apparently think family member employment is a “jobs program.” (Oy! That Rumor About Foreign Service Family Member Employment as “Corporate Welfare”).

On Wednesday, Secretary Tillerson is scheduled to address State Department employees at 10:30am ET. The event is available to watch live at . We understand that the “address” (not/not billed as a townhall) will be brief, and that apparently there will be no questions.

Last Monday, Secretary Tillerson also sent a mass email to all State Department employees asking for their “participation” to identify how they “are going about completing the Department of State’s mission.”

The email announced an online survey that will also go live from May 3 until 9 am (EDT) on Monday, May 15, 2017.

Employees are asked to participate with Tillerson’s email promising “Individual survey answers and comments will be treated as confidential.”  The survey will include the workforce “including employed family members, locally-engaged staff, and certain contractors.”

This would effectively exclude 70% of family members overseas who are currently employed outside U.S. missions and family members who are unemployed.

The final report will reportedly be available in May.

In addition to the survey, Secretary Tillerson’s email also told employees that some “300 individuals from both the Department and USAID in the United States and abroad will be interviewed.”  These individuals will reportedly be randomly selected. “The interview will take approximately one hour. Your candid assessments are invaluable. All interviews will be conducted privately and all responses will be treated as confidential,” Mr. Tillerson writes.

The chief diplomat who is widely reported as set to chop 2,300 positions from State and USAID expects “candid assessments?” And then he writes:

“We will be using the results of the survey and interviews as input to efficiency improvements as part of our larger efforts called for under E.O. 13781. I have no pre-conceived notions about how the Department or USAID should be organized for the future. My commitment on that first day was to deploy the talent and resources of the State Department in the most efficient way possible. In order to do that, we need your help in identifying processes that we all need improved.”

This is hilarious, excuse me.

Isn’t this like telling somebody — we’re gonna chop your arm, but first go ahead and tell us how to make an improved version of you?

The mass email ends with, “My regard for the men and women of the Department of State and USAID has only grown, as I experience every day the dedication and professionalism of our workforce. I hope that we can count on your help as we pursue our shared mission.”

Note that the State Department has about 75,000 employees worldwide, USAID has some 3,800.  So the State Department is interviewing 0.3 percent of the combined workforce, or if we don’t count the local staff, it would be about 1 percent of the direct-hire American workforce.

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