(WASHINGTON)–PEN America celebrates World Press Freedom Day 2022 by recognizing the courageous work of journalists in the U.S. and around the world.  To mark the day, PEN America welcomes the introduction of a bipartisan congressional resolution that affirms the critical role of journalists in standing up to authoritarian governments, countering disinformation, and supporting human rights worldwide. The free expression and literary organization is also observing World Press Freedom Day by leading a panel discussion on the role of international community media in protecting the public from disinformation and surveillance at the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day Global Conference, taking place in Punta del Este, Uruguay. In addition, PEN America chapters across the country are working to highlight the critical role of community media in combating disinformation.

Led by Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) and co-sponsored by Senators Kaine (D-VA), Cardin (D-MD), Merkley (D-OR), Van Hollen (D-MD), Coons (D-DE), Tillis (R-NC), Cornyn (R-TX) and Moran (R-KS), the 2022 Resolution commemorating World Press Freedom Day recognizes “widening threats to press freedom and free expression around the world” and reaffirms the “centrality of press freedom to efforts of the United States Government to support democracy, mitigate conflict, and promote good governance domestically and around the world.” The Resolution cites PEN America’s 2021 Freedom to Write Index and its reporting on the 277 writers and public intellectuals, including columnists and editorial journalists, who were jailed across 36 different countries during 2021.

“PEN America welcomes this bipartisan resolution and its reaffirmation of the critical role that journalists play in combating authoritarianism, countering misinformation and disinformation, and ensuring the healthy discourse that supports and advances healthy democracy,” said Nadine Farid Johnson, PEN America’s Washington director. “Journalists are operating under increasingly oppressive and dangerous conditions, yet their role in upholding the most basic tenets of democracy has never been more important. We thank the Senators for their leadership in highlighting the importance of free expression and a free press, and we call on the Biden administration and Secretary Blinken to make the release of wrongfully detained and imprisoned journalists and writers a priority in U.S. bilateral engagements.”

PEN America supported the resolution, along with Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Freedom House.

The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day is “Journalism under Digital Siege.” Led by U.S. Free Expression Coordinator Hannah Waltz, the panel hosted as part of the UNESCO conference in Uruguay will focus on the barrage of disinformation that adds new burdens and threats to the everyday work of journalists, as documented in PEN America’s recently released report, Hard News: Journalists and the Threat of Disinformation. Based on a survey of more than 1,000 journalists and editors across the U.S., the report found that by large margins journalists are alarmed by the disinformation they confront in their daily work, feel ill-equipped and under-trained to deal with the challenge, and see an urgent need to change newsroom tactics.

PEN America is also engaging its eight chapters and thousands of members through its PEN Across America program to promote and affirm the critical role community media plays in supporting a free press. As part of this effort, PEN America released a manifesto on the essential role of local journalism and community media in defending a free and healthy press, noting that community media  “enables better informed and wider involvement in public discourse” and protects communities by delivering essential information that “builds resilience against disinformation and surveillance.”

Summer Lopez, PEN America’s senior director of Free Expression Programs, said: “It is critical to spotlight the international journalists, editors, and publishers who speak truth to power and expertly navigate a continuously shifting media landscape. This year’s World Press Freedom Day theme of ‘journalism under digital siege’ aptly describes the pressure journalists face in our current era of rampant disinformation, online abuse, and surveillance–issues that pose a distinct and disproportionate threat to journalists as they work to report the truth from the most difficult spots, despite the dangers they face to their freedom and even their lives. PEN America’s focus on community media and its vital role in combating the digital siege that threatens journalism recognizes again the critical role of the local media in reaching communities and maintaining their trust.”

In April, PEN America announced that the 2022 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award will honor Vladyslav Yesypenko, a Ukrainian journalist detained in Russian-occupied Crimea in 2019. Yesypenko was sentenced to six years in prison on politically motivated charges in response to his reporting on life in Crimea under Russian occupation. The award will be presented to Yesypenko’s wife, Kateryna, at the 2022 PEN America Literary Gala on May 23.

“Russia’s war on Ukraine has offered a painfully stark example of the essentiality of defending a free press as a bulwark against disinformation and authoritarianism,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, inaugural director of the new PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center. “Ukrainian journalists, international journalists covering the war, and independent journalists in Russia  have all taken grave risks to expose the truth of Putin’s violent assault on the Ukrainian people and his attempts to deceive his own citizens. PEN America recognizes the courage of journalists like Vladyslav Yesypenko who have refused to be silenced, and we stand with journalists everywhere whose tireless dedication holds the powerful to account, ensures the public’s right to know, and serves as the foundation of democracy.”

Since 1993, the United Nations has marked World Press Freedom Day on May 3 to affirm the fundamental principles of press freedom, celebrate the positive impact journalism has on communities, honor journalists for their work to hold the powerful accountable, and stand up on behalf of those who have been silenced, imprisoned, or killed.

About PEN America

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. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, STrimel@PEN.org, 201-247-5057