#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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@StateDept’s Canned Article on Mar-a-Lago Roils Twitter, Hold On to Your Hats!

Posted: 6:55 pm ET
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The State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs runs ShareAmerica, the agency’s platform “for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.”  It provides content for U.S. embassies and consulates in “more than 140 countries to engage with people around the globe on U.S. foreign policy and American society.”

One of its recent canned articles is Mar-a-Lago: The winter White House written by Leigh Hartman and posted on the Share America website on April 4, 2017. The writer has also penned other pieces like Trump holds first meeting with China’s XiWatch Trump’s grandchildren sing for China’s Xi First lady honors courageous women from around the worldArab-American women: Making their mark and sharing their storiesNew coin honors Frederick Douglass and about the New York restaurant named best in the world.

U.S. embassies and consulates overseas do not hire writers for their websites, and do not have the people nor the money to generate their own content.  Share America’s writers generate the canned content that can be shared through the embassies/consulates social media platforms. That’s what happened when the US Embassy in London used the  Mar-a-Lago: The winter White House article on its website.  As can be expected, Embassy London is not the only website that carries the article on its website.

Moira Whelan, the former Deputy Secretary of State for Public Affairs took to Twitter to explain that “Share America is meant to explain America to the world. A group of staff writers explain Americana to the world.” She writes that “In a large office the staff are trusted to make decisions and I can see how “let’s tell the backstory of Mar-a-lago” seemed like a good idea.” She added that “It was an error in judgement, but the White House has done much more to create this as “normal” than one writer at .” She urged that attention is important “but more important is not to assign malicious intent to what may just be an error.”

One reporter said on Twitter that “the State Dept. spokesman says he doesn’t know why the State Dept. posted this about Trump’s for-profit business.”  Yes, because that spokesman works at the Bureau of Public Affairs (PA), while the content creators for Share America work for the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), the foreign public facing arm of the State Department.  The Share America articles are intended for a foreign audience.

I called the piece a “snafu” but corrected myself, maybe poor choice. Given the controversies surrounding Mar-a-Lago, this is probably not the best pick for shared content particularly since the article is also available for domestic consumption. But the writer/s probably also did not think through the political angle and the domestic audience.  Since IIP’s role is to explain America to the world, perhaps  can write a follow-up post explaining this controversy in our current environment.

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Shortly after this post went up, we saw this:

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