Oregon’s Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have joined sixteen of their Congressional colleagues to demand answers from the State Department regarding the practices and policies in place to assist journalists who face threats to their personal safety while reporting overseas and “to encourage the [Department] to actively protect reporters from retaliation they may experience in the countries where they work.”
In the letter demanding a briefing from the state department, the senators share their concern for the growing danger to journalists worldwide, noting that “journalists play a crucial role in informing and expanding public discourse, as well as holding governments accountable” and that in doing so, they face “potentially life-threatening risks from multiple sources, including conflict, disease, kidnapping, imprisonment, injury, repression, and harassment.”
New York Times Reporter Targeted by Egypt
The letter references the near-arrest of New York Times Cairo Bureau Chief Declan Walsh, who was alerted of his imminent detention by Egyptian authorities in 2017 by an anonymous U.S. official. The anonymous official feared retaliation as the administration had no plans to warn Walsh of the threat. Walsh’s experience was also highlighted in a recent editorial authored by Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger.
Although the State Department does provide some guidance tailored to journalists traveling overseas, “these policies do not specifically address or reference Department of State processes or prescribed best practices pertaining to journalist protection, and it is unclear whether embassies globally have standard operating procedures regarding diplomatic interventions into the potential detention or harassment of a journalist.”
Other Lawmakers Also Want Answers
The senators asked for a briefing on the State Department’s current policies by early December.
In addition to Wyden and Merkley, the letter was also signed by U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., Chris Coons, D-Del., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Tim Kaine, D-Va., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Jack Reed, D-R.I.
A copy of the letter is available here.