Secretary Kerry Remarks

Nov 92014

Good evening

I’m very pleased tonight to congratulate the International Center for Journalists for three decades of leadership in supporting freedom of expression and a more vibrant press across the world.

Living in America, we probably take the existence of a free press for granted. Our media here at home is rigorous and professional. And each day we have access to a bounty to information and commentary. What we don’t always acknowledge is how unusual that in fact is. And how unusual we are as a result.

According to Freedom House, only one person in six lives in a country where the press can fairly be described as free. And this often puts professional journalists, fact seekers, truth tellers at grave risk.

As Secretary of State, I have seen first hand how dangerous truth telling is in many places around the world. I’ll never forget when our ambassador to Ukraine pointed out, as we were driving along a highway late at night, a makeshift memorial on the side of the road where a journalist who had dared to criticize the old regime, was pulled from her car and beaten within an inch of her life.

From Syria and Eritrea to Iran and Ecuador, there are many, many comparable stories. In the words of President Obama, “All around the world there are enormously courageous journalists and bloggers, who at great risk to themselves, are trying to shine a light on the critical issues that the people of their country face.”

A free and open press is absolutely vital to the wellbeing of any society. And that is why the courageous work of the ICFJ is so important. You provide an indispensable platform of support for journalists across the globe who are telling stories the world needs to hear – about human trafficking, organized crime, terrorist operations, human right atrocities, violence against women, and the pandemic corruption that is keeping so many countries from fulfilling their potential.

You are also an invaluable source of training. For example, you should be proud of the work that you’re doing in partnership with the State Department to place 200 Pakistani journalists in newsrooms across our country, helping to break down misperceptions between our two democracies.

And each of you should take enormous satisfaction in what you have achieved over the past 30 years. In supporting more than 85,000 journalists in 180 countries and thereby helping to make governments more accountable, companies more transparent, citizens more engaged and societies more free. The three journalists that you honor tonight embody the values that ICFJ has championed throughout its history.

And I especially want to congratulate Lesley Stahl. Since Lesley started her career right in my hometown at WHGH in Boston, I can personally vouch for her determination to ask hard questions and demand real answers. And from the time that she arrived on the scene of a minor burglary at the Watergate Hotel in 1972, Lesley has been breaking stories and tearing down barriers for a generation of reporters.

I’m also pleased that ICFJ is honoring two savvy, street-smart journalists who are heirs to Lesley’s legacy. Oluwatoyosi Ogunseye’s work on the steel industry in Lagos and Alejandra Xanic von Bertrab’s stories on the human cost of corporate corruption in Mexico are both prime examples of investigative balance and truth-telling at their best. This is the kind of reporting that does more than provide information. It serves justice and lays the foundation for the critically needed social and political reform.

From the journalists in Vietnam who long ago rode on our patrol boat down the Mekong, to the reporters who now sit on the State Department plane as we tackle crises around the world, I’ve been privileged to see firsthand the sacrifices you make the risks you take to get the full story and to get it right. What you do is far more than a career, it’s a calling. So to the reporters you honor this evening and to all of you, thank you. Never stop believing that you can make a difference and never stop telling the truth.