National Press Club

State Department official commends Club for freedom of the press advocacy

May 19, 2015 | By Ken Dalecki | kdalecki@hotmail.com

Douglas Frantz

Douglas Frantz

Photo/Image: Rex Stucky

The State Department's assistant secretary for public affairs commended the Press Club and President John Hughes for making press freedom a major theme this year and outlined steps the State Department is taking to protect journalists in increasingly hostile environments at a meeting of American Legion Post 20 on May 18.

Douglas Frantz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter and editor before entering government service, said press freedom is an issue that is "professional and personal for me," after having covered conflicts from the first Gulf war to the fighting in Afghanistan. He said that for the first time journalists are being targeted rather than being killed or injured as collateral damage.

Frantz said local and freelance reporters are especially vulnerable because they lack support from major news organization. He said the State Department will expand a program that has trained some 350 journalists before they entered hostile environments.

The department is also working on a protocol under which foreign journalists would receive the same level of assistance from U.S. embassies that American journalists receive. Frantz said the procedures will be modeled on services offered by the U.S. embassy in Israel. He said that 90 percent of crimes against foreign journalists are never prosecuted, an issue that he said U.S. ambassadors soon will be required to raise during meetings with host country officials.

Frantz conceded that press freedom is not the top priority in dealing with countries such as Iran, Egypt, Turkey and Russia, but that it continues to be an issue raised by Secretary of State John Kerry. He said human rights will be a major issue in any normalization of relations with Cuba.

The assistant secretary said Russia poses a special threat due to what he called the "weaponization of propaganda," particularly lies aimed at large Russian-speaking populations in the Baltic states. He said the U.S., Germany and Great Britain are developing a cloud-based bank of popular Western programs translated into Russian for use by unbiased broadcasters on their stations. Frantz said Russian speakers would then stay tuned for fact-based news programs rather than the biased reporting on Russian stations airing popular programming.

Hughes and Freedom of the Press Committee Chairman John Donnelly attended the meeting and announced that American freelance reporter Austin Tice, detained in Syria since 2012, will receive a John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award at the Club's annual awards dinner July 29.

Speaker portions of Post 20 luncheons are open to all NPC members.