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” Journalists today matter more than ever” – Remarks by Robert O. Blake, Jr. Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs

Remarks by Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
National Press Club, Washington, DC
October 12, 2012

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak today as we honor Lukpan Akhmedyarov of Kazakhstan, this year’s recipient of the Peter Mackler Award, which honors reporters and editors who have demonstrated a commitment to fairness and to a right to publish in countries that repress independent media.

I never had the privilege of knowing Peter Mackler, but I admire the spirit of this award in his name. I also know and have worked with J.S. Tissainayagam, the first Mackler Award recipient in 2009. As a career diplomat, I have spent much of my 27 years of public service in the developing world trying to help build more prosperous, democratic and just societies where everyone can aspire to a life of hope, dignity and opportunity. I tell anyone who will listen that if I had not been a diplomat, I would have tried to have been a journalist because many journalists are animated by these same ideals to make a difference.

It seems to have become an article of faith that online news and social media are replacing traditional journalism. The fact is journalists today matter more than ever. On World Press Freedom Day last May, Secretary Clinton said that “Voice by voice, text by text, Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans and many others have dared to say what they believe and to stand up for their own rights. Many others have dared to report on what they see happening, even when their lives were at risk.”

She aptly noted that “these challenges are not limited to just one region. Every year, dozens of journalists are killed, beaten, and threatened, while hundreds of others languish in prisons for exercising their right to free expression. Their imprisonment and intimidation is a global injustice. When a free media is under attack anywhere, all human rights are under attack everywhere.”

Kazakhstan is a country with which the United States has a growing partnership. One important part of that is to continue to work toward our mutual goal of a fully democratic system and strong civil society that work together to protect internationally recognized human rights.

That’s why the United States supported Kazakhstan to be the first country east of Vienna to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2010.

In our dialogue with Kazakhstan we continue to urge progress on a range of human rights issues, including particularly freedoms of expression and religion.

Much of our dialogue and work is informed and inspired by the efforts and the example of journalists like Mr. Akhmedyarov. They are pioneers in the quest for human dignity, liberty and prosperity, as highlighted in the enduring principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – that all people have the right to freely express their views, no matter who they are, where they live, or what those views may be.

Mr. Akhmedyarov is a worthy recipient of the Peter Mackler Award for his courageous efforts in Kazakhstan. Since he started working for the newspaper Uralskaya Nedelya in July, 2001, he has been a strong advocate for freedom of the press and for democracy, and has paid for this activism.

In 2008, Mr. Akhmedyarov spent five days in jail for contempt of court; in 2010, he was fined 20,000,000 Tenge, or about $130,000, for publishing articles about budget discrepancies; and in 2011, he spent another five days in jail for protesting against naming President Nazarbayev as “Leader of the Nation.”

On April 19 of this year, he was attacked for what he believes was his article exposing familial ties between a local and national politician. The article featured the Head of Department of Internal Policy of West Kazakhstan Oblast Region, who sued the journalist and the newspaper for defamation, and won the case in July. Mr. Akhmedyarov’s continued activism in the face of this adversity is what makes him such an outstanding selection for this award.

As we honor him, we also honor the many other brave men and women who risk their lives every day to keep the rest of us informed, to keep governments accountable and societies more democratic, prosperous and successful.

Thank you again for the opportunity to be a part of this ceremony.