NEW YORK—Focusing attention on threats to press freedom here in the United States, PEN America and its allies are, for the first time, marking World Press Freedom Day 2019 not only globally but across the country by mobilizing communities nationwide to stand up for journalism and celebrate the free press as a vital cornerstone of our democracy.

To recognize World Press Freedom Day, proclaimed as May 3 by the United Nations, PEN America is hosting events in cities including Atlanta, GA, where Stacey Abrams will deliver a keynote at The Carter Center. Her keynote address will be followed by a panel including CNN Vice President and Assistant General Counsel Johnita Due, Representative David Dreyer of the Georgia House of Representatives, Univision Regional Community Empower Director Mariela Romero, and moderator Greg Bluestein of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In Denver, CO, Cincinnati, OH, Chicago, IL, Austin, TX, and more, PEN America will join forces with its membership of prominent writers and journalists alongside civic leaders, advocates, and lawmakers to underline the urgency of active defense of press freedom. Supporters of press freedom can find out more and take action at https://pen.org/free-press-2019

PEN America’s advocacy efforts have secured the passage of resolutions and proclamations stressing the imperative of protecting a free press and ensuring journalists can work without danger in several city councils including Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Austin. In the New York State Senate, Senator Brad Hoylman sponsored a resolution to recognize World Press Freedom Day.  

“Press freedom is essential to our democracy, yet with attacks against reporters on the rise, and as we witness the U.S. being downgraded in global press freedom rankings, we must face the fact that we can no longer take press freedom for granted in this country,” said PEN America Director of U.S. Free Expression Programs Nora Benavidez.

“In just a few short years we have seen revenue for local newsrooms steeply decline, physical threats towards journalists multiply, the devastating fatal shooting at the Capital News-Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, and news of systematic surveillance of journalists at the U.S.-Mexico border,” said Benavidez. “This slowly chips away at the public’s ability to stay informed, and journalists’ sense of safety while doing their jobs. Now we must all take a stand to defend freedom of the press as enshrined in the First Amendment, and to highlight the necessity of journalism in our communities.”

“Press freedom can sometimes seem like an abstract concept or a distant problem, but the consequences of its erosion affect every single person’s life, from the air we breathe and how our tax dollars are spent to how empowered we feel to vote and engage in civic and community life,” said PEN America National Outreach Program Director Katie Zanecchia. “The creeping growth of news deserts—communities in which there is little to no regional news coverage—has been linked to less scrutiny for school boards and local government, drops in civic participation, and declines in environmental protection standards. By highlighting World Press Freedom Day in the U.S., we are honored to work with partners in cities around the country to celebrate the vital role of journalists, and to vigorously defend their rights.”

World Press Freedom Day has always held special significance in countries where journalists operate under repressive regimes, or are just emerging from conflict or authoritarian rule. With the United States now on the list of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, the media regularly denigrated by political leaders—even called the ‘’enemy of the American people’’ by the President—and many communities losing local news coverage, PEN America supporters are drawing attention to the growing risks to press freedom here at home.

PEN America strongly supports a bipartisan U.S. Senate resolution introduced May 1 by Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (D-FL) that recognizes “the widening threats to freedoms of the press and expression around the world” and “reaffirms the centrality of freedom of the press to … good governance domestically and around the world.” In a coordinated effort in the U.S. House of Representatives, Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Steve Chabot (R-OH) have introduced House Resolution 345, a similar resolution. PEN America Washington Director Thomas O. Melia said: “It is more important than ever before that public officials speak up for the press, as the threats against journalists on every continent are mounting day by day. That these initiatives command bipartisan support in Congress is heartening, given the fractious nature of politics these days.”

PEN America also supports House Resolution 325, introduced in the House by Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA), and cosponsored by 24 others, which focuses on the vital role that journalists have long played in reporting on the actions of American presidents. H.Res.325 calls on the White House and all executive agencies to affirm press freedom by committing to full press access to all briefings, and to denounce discrimination against journalists based on viewpoint. The full text of the Resolution is available here.

This year’s events across the country reinforce PEN America’s ongoing efforts in defense of press freedom. PEN America is also represented at UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day celebration underway in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and has brought a global group of women journalists targeted by online harassment to share their experiences—and their determination not to be silenced—with participants.   

Since 1993, the United Nations has recognized World Press Freedom Day annually on May 3, affirming the fundamental principles of press freedom, celebrating the positive impact journalism has on communities, honoring journalists for the work they do to hold the powerful accountable, and standing up on behalf of those who have been silenced, imprisoned, or killed for their work.

Find out more about PEN America’s national campaign for World Press Freedom Day, and get involved at https://pen.org/free-press-2019.

PEN America’s work to defend press freedom is made possible by the ambitious vision of our Members and allies, and the generous support of the Democracy Fund, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: agasparian@pen.org