State Department Official's Timely Speech on Social Media

Wednesday, April 9, 2014
In light of all the fake outrage regarding U.S. efforts to help the Cuban people freely access social media, this week's remarks by U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State John Feeley at the Inter-American Press Association's Mid-Year Meeting were timely and important.

Here's an excerpt:

Old style modern communication was a one-way street -- newspapers, radio, television.  Because of new technology, the narrative is now a two-way street.  It is a dialogue not a monologue. It is no longer governments talking to governments. Everyone with a smart phone has a voice in this global marketplace.

The issue is not whether social media is replacing traditional media – it all still starts with quality content, and it is a continuum of platforms on which that content will be available.  Print and broadcast media will endure and hopefully continue to thrive, but what we also know is that ALL content will find a life at some point on digital platforms.  And it will be interactive. Social media is allowing us to build relationships with people around the world, even in the most remote corners. We can and must continue to reach individuals one by one through person-to-person engagement—nothing equals that—but we can reach exponentially more through the new techniques of social media.

Recognizing this new reality, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the work of someone I admire very much, Cuban activist and blogger Yoani Sanchez.  She was a recent awardee of the Maria Moors Cabot Prize.  This is one of the oldest international awards in the field of journalism and it is presented to those who made a significant contribution to Inter-American understanding.

Yoani was awarded the prize in 2009, but was not allowed to travel to attend the ceremony.  It was only last September that she was able to accept it in person, and I had the chance to meet with her just a few days ago when she was in Washington.  The work she does, in spite of great personal danger, serves as an inspiration to many in the region.  Alongside her example there are dozens of other names I could mention whose commitment and courage inspire us.

The United States believes that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are two of the most important topics facing the Americas today.  Whether we say something in a public square, or if we type on our keyboards – be it published in print newspapers, blogs, texts, or tweets – our right to do that and our right to freedom of expression is, in the words of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, an “essential component” of the exercise of democracy.  

The laws of all countries should guarantee an independent, diverse and pluralistic media, free from commercial, government, and political interference.  We would like all citizens – not just citizens of the United States – to have unrestricted access to the most pluralistic range of information sources available.