Ned Price: Why we welcome tough questions

This piece was written by State Department Spokesperson Ned Price.

The end of each day’s press briefing at the U.S. State Department always brings a mix of accomplishment and relief.

As the department’s spokesperson, I face reporters during the daily press briefing to ensure the public understands America’s foreign policy. While it’s sometimes a daunting and occasionally bruising task, I know that if the public doesn’t understand what we’re doing or why, our policies will lack the credibility and legitimacy necessary to succeed.

I also know that the reporters asking me questions are themselves vital to America’s democracy — and send a signal the world over regarding the importance of responsive, accountable governance. That’s why, in addition to informing the public, I hope my exchanges with reporters serve as an example of the hard work that an informed citizenry and an open, accountable government require.

I say that knowing that far too many governments stymie a free press. They harass, threaten and imprison journalists for doing their work and pass restrictive laws or policies aimed at silencing them. Russia, Burma, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and other countries have forced at least 22 newspapers to close since 2017, according to Reporters Without Borders.

That makes this year’s World Press Freedom Day all the more important. Established in 1993 and celebrated on May 3, it reminds us of the importance of upholding a free press and supporting journalists from repressive regimes. It is also a time to remember journalists who lost their lives pursuing stories that inform democracy and help us better understand our world.

Through my daily interactions, I’ve come to know the reporters who cover the State Department and gained an appreciation for the risks journalists take. It was heartbreaking when we learned that correspondent Ben Hall had been injured and that Pierre Zakrzewski, Oleksandra Kuvshynova and Vera Hyrych were killed while bravely reporting on Russia’s war in Ukraine. In too many places around the world, journalists face threats of physical violence — even death — for doing nothing more than reporting the truth.

This year, World Press Freedom Day focuses on the digital era’s impacts on reporters’ safety and free expression. It’s an especially timely theme given that authoritarian regimes increasingly are targeting journalists beyond their borders, often misusing digital tools to track journalists’ communications and locations.

Freedom of expression, including for members of the press, is a human right. And I am proud to speak on behalf of the State Department in support of independent media around the world. In the past year, the State Department has called out the PRC, Russia, Belarus, Nicaragua and other countries for arresting reporters and forcing news organizations to close. Journalism is not a crime. Only those with something to hide silence the press.

The State Department is committed to advancing press freedom at home and abroad, and we will continue to urge other governments to hold accountable those who target journalists with harassment, intimidation and violence.