Tonight we celebrate your work and the work of journalists around the world and reflect upon one of the core values of every democracy: freedom of expression. Freedom of expression, for members of the media and citizens alike, is a universal human right and the cornerstone of a democratic society.
Governments must protect the right of the media to operate freely and the right of individuals to seek and receive information and opinions from diverse and alternative sources. In dozens of countries around the world, publications are still censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, and detained.
Armenia is not immune to these problems. We have been particularly concerned about the large monetary damages awarded in numerous recent libel lawsuits against journalists in Armenia.
Good journalism requires fairness, integrity and accuracy, and there should be consequences for irresponsible reporting. But libel laws should enhance the quality of journalism, not deprive the people of their right to receive information or bankrupt media outlets that criticize public figures.
Freedom of speech is the oxygen of a vibrant democracy, and people who operate in public fora—such as myself–must be able to accept public criticism. Democratic governments are not infallible, but they are accountable, and the robust exchange of ideas is the foundation for accountable governance.
In the U.S. and in many places around the world, the press fosters active debate, provides investigative reporting, and expresses different points of view, particularly on behalf of those who are marginalized in society. That is an important function, it is even; it is a responsibility. As President John F. Kennedy once said, “We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”
Tonight, all of us here at the US Embassy, I honor you for the important role that you play and for your commitment to the free exchange of ideas.