Global Free Expression: Three Modest Goals for American Media

Article excerpt

This article is an abridged version of a forthcoming essay to be published by the Cornerstone Project, The Media Institute's public awareness and education program celebrating the first Amendment. SPJ is a member of the Cornerstone Project Advisory Council. For more information about the Cornerstone Project, visit the Web site at www.mediainstitute.org/cornerstone.

It was not a typical visit from a client.

He had been targeted by his president, Slobodan Milosevic, he told me. His newspaper in Belgrade, the Dnevni Telegraf, had been summarily subjected to ruinous fines for expressing opinion, all on a pretext and without any hope of legal challenge. It was no longer safe for him to publish.

But he had found a publisher in Montenegro, just south of Serbia, and a sympathetic trucking firm that would hide bundles of his magazine, Evuropljanin, under heads of lettuce and shipments of grain. His magazine could come right into the markets in the center of Belgrade, he told me with a wry smile. He would give it away if he could not sell it.

But can this be safe, I remember asking. Shouldn't you stop? He was incredulous. "I will never stop," he said. Upon returning to Serbia, he was sentenced to five months in prison.

As he walked home from Orthodox Easter Mass, Slavko Curuvija was assassinated.

World Press Freedom Day, celebrated on May 3, is a fitting reminder of the tenacity and the courage of those who fight for global free expression on the world's most difficult battlefields. Mr. Curuvija's assassination was not an isolated incident. The Committee to Protect Journalists has confirmed that 19 journalists were assassinated or killed in the line of duty in 2002; another 13 died of suspicious causes, and at least four more simply disappeared. In 2001, 37 were lost.

This has been going on for as long as there have been conflicts between those in authority and those who would criticize authority. My own grandfather, a printer in Luxembourg, criticized the Nazi invasion until his presses were destroyed by the SS.

Sacrifices have been made in America since the Revolution for the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. These values are in danger today, as the Internet and our shrinking world have made the fight for free speech a global battle. It is no longer a battle in which our federal courts can be a dependable refuge; it is no longer a battle where Congress can be relied upon to pass laws. It is a battle being fought by two very different groups of media companies and journalists.

The first are the U.S. media outlets that find themselves threatened with criminal prosecutions in distant lands, subpoenaed before foreign courts and libel suits in nations where they have no presence outside of Internet availability. …