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Remarks to the Participants of the Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists


Location: Washington, DC

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good morning, everybody. How you all doing? Good? Nice to be with you. Welcome. We're really, really happy to have you here at the State Department and we're delighted that you are taking part in this really critical program -- historic program in many ways -- the Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists. I'm very grateful to our Assistant Secretary Evan Ryan for her leadership and for what the Education/Cultural Affairs Bureau does for us here.

This is just one of many programs, but this is a very important program because you are the connection in your countries to vast numbers of people and the information they get, what they learn about the world, what they shape as their own views and beliefs, will come through some of the information that you share with them, or the opinions you offer them. And all of that is critical in a world that is far more interconnected today; it's almost become a cliche to talk about this interconnectedness. It has profound implications for all of us in -- we see it every single day.

But it's really amazing when you think about the revolution that the person this program is named after -- Edward R. Murrow -- initiated. He, like many of you, and you may not have chosen this consciously, but the fact that you are journalists suggests to me very much that you have come to this with a certain passion and a belief in this ability to impart information and to share with people what is happening in the world. Edward R. Murrow really defined that revolution.

I was born in 1943 in the middle of the war, and I can remember as I grew up in the early 1950s hearing a lot about Edward R. Murrow and listening to him still -- because he was still reporting -- but his vivid reporting of the war brought the blitz over London into the living rooms of Americans. And it allowed Americans to be able to listen to what our British friends and cousins were living through on a day-to-day basis. You could hear the air-raids, you could feel the burning buildings, and you could sense the terror that the people of London felt. And in a sense, that affected Americans ultimately in their willingness to heed their call to conscience and their need to defend democracy, ultimately, and their entry into the war.

It was unprecedented, that kind of real-time, instantaneous communication. And Edward R. Murrow became famous for his role in communicating information. There are more modern examples of that. We can all remember Wolf Blitzer and other people during the Iraq War reporting live. Nowadays you still see reporters instantaneously going to places and putting themselves at considerable risk. Every year we hear about reporters, journalists who are killed in one part of the world or another trying to cover the world's events.

So at a time when we're living in a world with far more information coming at people than people have any capacity to be able to completely process, what you say, how you say it, what you choose to report on, and what issues you make important, actually becomes even far more important in many ways, because it affects us. It affects the policymakers. It affects the choices that we face because, particularly in democracies, our people respond to that information. And that information winds up filtering its way back in to the political process. That's what the value of it is.

In many ways, your job is not only defined by how you report the news, but what you choose to report, and how many of you sort of join together to agree that a particular issue or another has a special significance. An example of that, I might say to you, would be what is happening in Syria today. Syria is an unfolding human catastrophe. As you know at the United Nations we have great difficulty being able to get the UN Security Council to be able to agree on one action or another. I think that if more people were aware of the degree to which the situation in Syria is intolerable, that children are being singled out and bombed and killed, and that people are now being starved as a tactic of war, and that some people are having to try to find a stray cat or a stray dog in order to be able to eat and survive, and that whole parts of cities are being closed off and locked out from communication and humanitarian assistance. This is a human catastrophe of enormous proportion because there are 4 million displaced people inside of Syria and some 2 million-plus now outside, and it has profound impact on Jordan, on Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and can create an even greater convergence of violence as sectarian violence breaks out in even greater levels.

We all remember how people felt about the absence of a response to Rwanda. And it took us a long time to be able to summon the response that President Clinton finally took the effort on individually, without the Congress, to respond to Bosnia, Kosovo, the Balkans. And we know historically that there have been moments when there have been great lapses in the willingness of people to stand up for things -- World War II and the Holocaust are an example of that. You, all of you, are the link to conscience and to freedom of information. And so it is critical, I think, as President Obama said in his address to the United Nations General Assembly a little while ago, societies that are based on democracy and a free flow of information tend to be more stable and they tend to be more prosperous and they tend to be more peaceful. So information and its flow is critically linked to that.

When our founders of our Constitution and our country were writing the Constitution of our nation, there's only one thing they gave a protection to, only one business, only one vocation. It was journalism. In the First Amendment, they decided that freedom of the press had to be sanctified, in essence. And so we have huge freedom in our country to write anything, say anything, and libel laws are very difficult in this country to be able to protect against, particularly if you're in public life.

So I would just say to you very quickly that you have a huge role to play in defining where this planet of ours is going to go. We have enormous challenges -- global climate change, trying to get people to act on the science that is warning us starkly about the impact of climate change. It's very difficult. There are huge forces, money forces, interests, powerful interests, current energy companies that don't want to give up their current method of providing energy, whether it's coal or fossil fuel. So there are enormous choices for us and populations all around the world are being challenged by these things.

I was recently in Bali, Indonesia, and I met with fishermen there. And the fishermen were telling us about their struggles to try to keep fishing and be able to pull tuna out of the ocean with a depleting stock, because more and more people in more parts of the world are demanding more fish, more protein, too much money chasing too few fish, too little management, too little regulation, too little monitoring, too little oversight, and the result is in many parts of the world the fisheries are overfished and the ecosystem is being destroyed. How do you change that?

You have the power to be able to help change that by informing populations, by inculcating in populations a sense of responsibility for making choices about these kinds of issues. So I would just say to you that a free and open press, in our judgment, is a vital foundation of peace and prosperity, and we believe very deeply in your presence here today. This program is short, but we hope you will find that it is valuable and help you as you report on the front lines that you can have this sense of balance and sense of responsibility at the same time and be able to follow in Edward R. Murrow's footsteps as pioneers in a global communications revolution that is taking place today.

I hope that this program will help you understand the awesome responsibilities as journalists that you have, and most importantly, the role that you can play in helping us to be able to make the right choices and help us to be able to bring the citizens of the world together in an effort to be able to deal with what is no longer just the issue of one country or one people, but frankly, the issues that bind all of us together and upon which all of our futures and survival will depend. That's how important your role is, and we look forward to continuing to work with you as you play it out.

On that note, I would be delighted to take a number of questions. I think we've got some that are pre-arranged. As long as I have time, I'll try to take a couple of extra if I can.

MODERATOR: Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary for -- (audio break.)

QUESTION: -- Pacific Group -- they're seated behind me. We represent Southeast Asia, China, and Australia, and a couple of islands in the Pacific. We all know about President Obama's pivot to Asia. Recently, you wrote about the need for the U.S. to forge a Pacific future in relation to some of the interests of the United States, including national security. What we want to know is what's in it -- (audio break.)

SECRETARY KERRY: -- and it's in Asia's interest for a number of different reasons. First of all, the United States, I think, has been a welcome and important guarantor of the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, in the region. We have been a stable -- we have been a force for stability within that region. I think if you look at the aftermath of World War II, you had economies that had been wholly destroyed. Obviously, in the case of Japan, the United States didn't, quote, "occupy" Japan. The United States empowered Japan and helped Japan write its constitution and helped Japan develop institutions and build capacity. And Japan today is a vital ally and a critical economic force in the world and a major force for good in many parts of the world. Prime Minister Abe is playing a very important role as a global citizen helping Japan to deal with humanitarian disasters, with security issues, with economic assistance, and so forth. So that's what comes out of that kind of a relationship.

And if you look at the relationship, for instance, with Vietnam -- I was a young soldier who fought in Vietnam -- in Navy. And we went from a period of war in the 1960s and "70s to ending an embargo, to opening a relationship, to beginning to help Vietnam with its own transformation. And one of our largest Fulbright programs -- at one point, the largest in the world was in Vietnam. Many of the people engaged today in running the Government of Vietnam came out of that Fulbright program and came out of exchanges and the relationships with the United States. And Vietnam's economy -- which is taking off, soaring, amazing growth over these years -- is an economy that has adopted free market principles and has engaged in competition and in foreign investment and building jobs for its people, improving the lifestyles. There's greater stability. There's much greater interconnectivity between all of the countries in the region.

I was just in Brunei, and also in Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, as well as in Bali, for a series of summits. And during those summits, there was huge interaction between all the Pacific countries -- not just the United States, but Mexico, Chile, Peru -- all of us engaged in a Pacific enterprise because we see huge economic benefit to all of our countries. And in those economic relationships as well as in the other relationships, we see stability and we see rules of the road being created. We see standards being adopted where there's a uniformity of action so that businesses can know that if you're going to invest in one country or another, the rules will be the same, that you'll be treated fairly, that your investment will be safe. And creating those rules is what creates an international protocol by which everybody can begin to benefit from the stability and from the higher standards and rules of the road.

Now, when you say pivot to Asia, I want to make it clear: I don't think this comes at the expense of pivoting away from somebody else. We tend to call it a rebalance, really, which is sort of rebalancing our focus. And the reason we're rebalancing the focus is because we believe that the entire Asia Pacific is an area of enormous growth potential, that it can contribute much more significantly to solutions to problems, working together, all of us in concert, and that's the value. So there are many other side values, individual rights, different protections that will be afforded to people, but we are much better off when we are working together.

The fastest area -- growing area in the world today is both Africa and South Asia. And there's a huge opportunity for that growth to benefit its citizens as long as people are reaching for the higher standards and we're not having a race to the bottom. I think the United States engagement is one that encourages the race to the top and avoids -- tries to spread the benefits of globalization to many more people in ways that are much fairer, and that helps build stability in all of those countries.

PARTICIPANT: (Off-mike.)


MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Our next question is from the European region. I believe we have -- if you wouldn't mind introducing yourself.

QUESTION: Hello. I am Stela Jemna. I'm coming from Republic of Moldova and we have a question from some former Soviet Union countries. So our question is: Would you like to comment on Russian integration project, and on measures -- I would say pressure -- applied to some countries that have to choose between Russia and the West, or between custom union and (inaudible). Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Okay, good question. Look, we don't think that it should be either/or. We would like to see Russia, obviously, encouraging countries to engage more broadly with everybody, and not have to pick a narrow group or create these smaller groups. The United States right now is engaged in trying to negotiate a very broad trade agreement with Europe, the TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership, even as we are also trying to create a trade partnership in Asia called the TPP. And the reason for that is we want everybody to come up to a higher level.

Unfortunately, in the customs arrangement, it tends to not raise people to that higher level. It's not as broadly interactive as we would like it to be, and so it tends to force people into this choosing one bloc or another. Choosing blocs at a lower standard does not improve your prospects for long-term integration into the global economy, and it does not strengthen the opportunities, it doesn't increase the opportunities as much as a broader based economic arrangement which is more broadly accepted on a global basis.

So we would actually encourage our friends in Russia and other countries to be looking to the other standards and joining and really broadening their base of opportunities that comes with that higher standard. I think -- I hope ultimately that will happen. I know Moldova, I know Ukraine -- there's a tension right now as to sort of whether there's going to be a pull or a push and what's going to happen. I think that's unfortunate, and we would obviously like to see people be free to make their own choices, not have pressure, and as I say, have a broader based set of agreements where everybody benefits and you're actually improving the economic opportunity on a much broader basis.

MODERATOR: Mr. Secretary, I know you have a meeting to attend, and so if you would be willing to take one more question --

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, absolutely.

MODERATOR: -- that would be great.


MODERATOR: I know we're keeping you. The next question is from the Africa region, and it's in the French language.


MODERATOR: I believe, if you wouldn't mind introducing yourself.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. Secretary Kerry, my name is Raoul Bell Mbog. I'm a journalist at Slate Afrique based in France. Maybe if you don't mind, I will ask my question in French.


QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) In a lot of African countries, people are struggling for more democracy, for more good governance. And sometimes they get the inspiration from what's going on in the United States or Europe, but democracy in a lot of African countries, as you know it maybe, (inaudible). Do you think that democracy is a universal concept, or is it something that should be tailored to each culture to each country?

SECRETARY KERRY: That's a very good question. I believe that the values underneath democracy are a universal set of principles and values -- freedom, freedom of choice, respect for human rights, people being able to choose their future. Now, you can have a parliamentarian form, you can have a republican form the way we do, et cetera. There are variations on that theme. But by and large, it is only in democracies that the full measure of universal rights and aspirations, I believe, are given full life.

And I think you can look around the world and see that. In some countries, women are second-class citizens or in many places, hardly full citizens of any kind, in some places property or chattel and very much limited in aspirations. In many places, you have no freedom to be able to speak out about what's happening politically without winding up in jail, or in some cases being dead. We believe that it's in democracies where those rights are protected where there's universal accountability of all the people.

It doesn't always function as the most -- as the easiest. I mean, witness what we're going through. We're 300 years old plus, and we're having, still, struggles to define the fullness of our own democracy. And that's just the way it works. But it is far better for people to go to a park and be able to stand up on a soapbox and give a speech and know that they're not going to jail because they did it, or that they may be dead at the end of the day, than the situation of many parts of the world today.

We believe that it is also that democracy that allows the fullness of entrepreneurial activity and innovation and freedom of thinking that meets the highest standards that people have been struggling to live going all the way back in time. And you can go back through the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, into the heart of the 1500s, 1600s, and the struggle through the Age of Reason, Age of Enlightenment, and all the things where these great tensions were being fought out in countries as they went through revolutions and counter revolutions and different efforts to respect the rights of people.

So while you can have maybe different forms of that, a constitutional monarchy or a constitutional democracy or different kinds of shape that it takes, the fundamental principles underlying democracy are at the center, I believe, of the embrace of fundamental universal human rights. And those human rights -- all men are created equal; the right to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; these kinds of things that define us as a country -- I think are part of what attract people all over the world to the struggles that they're engaged in today to try to live that fullness of rights. So while you can argue about the governance structure, you cannot argue, I think, ultimately, about the rights that are the foundation on which it is built.

And I think those are the things that bind people together, particularly in this new world that is so interconnected. Everybody's connected. You go blog somewhere, you go Tweet -- you're in FaceTime, you talk to anybody anywhere in the world, instantaneous communication, nothing is a secret anymore.

There was an official in one country recently where a photo showed up on the internet, and it showed that person with a blank spot, a nice white lack of tan where their watch had been. And somebody said, wait a minute, that official obviously had a watch. They went back and found another picture, and they saw a watch, a very expensive watch, then they went back and found some more pictures. There was a different watch on each time. And they said, whoa, that official doesn't earn enough to have bought all those watches, and that official basically was fired and found to be corrupt.

There's a new policeman on the block; it's all of you. It's everybody out there. And so we're living in a new world of accountability, and I think because of that, people are increasingly going to demand those universal rights that I talk about.

So anyway, thank you all very much. Good to be with you. Thank you. Appreciate it. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you so much. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you all for your questions as well.


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