Congressman Cohen Chairs Helsinki Commission Hearing on Press Freedom in the United States

July 23, 2020
Press Release
Hearing examines “Human Rights at Home: Media, Politics and Safety of Journalists”

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, today chaired a hearing on press freedom in the United States. Congressman Cohen noted that, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, there have been more than 500 attacks on journalists during Black Lives Matter protests since May 26. Congressman Cohen also expressed his concern about Trump Administration efforts to muzzle the Voice of America.

In his opening remarks, Congressman Cohen said:

“As a country and a Congress, we should hold the United States to the highest standard for compliance with international press freedom commitments.

“According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, there have been over 500 reported attacks on the press since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter protests on May 26. Most of the incidents against the press have been at the hands of authorities using excessive and indiscriminate force, and disregarding press identification. A man from my own district, photographer Max Gersh with the Memphis daily newspaper Commercial Appeal, was shoved by police with batons while covering protests in Louisville, Kentucky.

“Meanwhile, at the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), Trump-appointee Michael Pack has purged the leadership of the organization, firing heads of four critical networks – including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia – and replacing the bipartisan boards that govern and advise those networks with political appointees of the Trump administration. Now, Mr. Pack has threatened to let visas expire for the foreign journalists working for USAGM in the United States, putting these journalists at risk in their countries of origin where they risk potentially severe repercussions upon return.

“President Trump has called Voice of America ‘foreign propaganda,’ and its journalism ‘disgusting,’ which is sadly unsurprising given his ongoing barrage against journalists in this country. Despite the President’s rhetoric, Michael Pack must ensure that USAGM is free from political interference in order to fulfill its mandate – providing credible, unbiased information to audiences around the world.”

See Congressman Cohen’s opening remarks here.

See the Congressman’s questioning of witnesses here.

The witnesses today’s hearing were:

  • Christiane Amanpour, chief international anchor, CNN and PBS;
  • David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, The United Nations;
  • Dr. Courtney C. Radsch, advocacy director, Committee to Protect Journalists.