Press freedom in America holds the government accountable and keeps citizens better informed, and President Barack Obama was right Monday to sign legislation that could bring this same spotlight to the rest of the world. Obama signed the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act, which requires the State Department to document other nations' press abuses as part of its annual global report on human rights.
Americans may think of the press as moussed-up talking heads who shout to the rafters on cable television. But in most of the world, reporting is a more dangerous, thankless business. At least 11 journalists have been killed across the globe this year for doing their jobs, according to Reporters Without Borders. Some 160 have been jailed. They have been killed and imprisoned by governments, terrorist groups and drug dealers, in both the darkest corners on Earth and in advanced societies that America counts as allies.
The law requires the State Department to document the independence of foreign media and to identify nations where journalists are attacked, intimidated or censored. The annual report would establish whether foreign governments participate in the abuse and document what steps had been taken to preserve the safety and independence of the media. The law covers both traditional reporters and Internet bloggers.
The measure is a powerful reminder of the role journalists play in democratic societies, and it comes as attacks on reporters have become increasingly brutal and commonplace. Drug gangs have killed at least four journalists in Mexico this year. The New York Times reported Tuesday on a wave of attacks against Russian reporters who dared to write about government corruption and conflicts of interests.
Obama said the law will help single out nations that fail to respect an independent media by subjecting them "to the gaze of world opinion." The law's intent honors Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and murdered in 2002 by Islamic extremists in Pakistan. America sends an enormous amount of military and financial aid to nations across the globe. A more vigorous effort to encourage an open, independent media and to call out those countries that suppress and harm watchdog journalists complements those efforts.