It is quite well known that the US government applies double standards to freedom of the press issue. Despite the fact that “freedom of the press in the United States is legally protected by the First Amendment” to the US Constitution, information available to the public is not necessarily free of government interference. It would appear that everything that does not align with policies of the current US elites is excluded from the mainstream, such as reports by journalists, viewed as troublemakers, and by alternative media outlets According to a survey, conducted by the Cato Institute (a US public policy research organization) and publicized on July 22, 2020, “nearly two-thirds—62%—of Americans” questioned “say the political climate these days prevents them from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive”.
There are numerous mechanisms at the US government disposal to filter out information deemed unnecessary, thus preventing it from reaching a wider audience. And such policies are being pursued on the domestic front as well as abroad. There are also regulations governing the work of foreign media outlets operating in the United States. For example, this year, the US State Department designated “five Chinese news agencies as foreign government entities”, which were from then onwards to be officially treated “as extensions of China’s government, subjecting employees to similar rules that foreign diplomats operate under”.
US companies have, on a number of occasions, taken down content posted by foreign media outlets from their platforms and social media networks for various reasons. For example, in May 2020, YouTube (a video sharing company) deleted the accounts of Crimea’s TV channel Krym-24 as well as ANNA News (the Abkhazian Network News Agency) and News Front from its platform. A month earlier, Russian News Agency TASS reported that “the Federal News Agency said earlier that Google had blocked its account, as well as its YouTube account”. The New Eastern Outlook accounts on Facebook and Twitter have been blocked. The official Twitter accounts of the President and government of Russia and a number of prominent Russian media received special, McCarthy-style labels. The list goes on.
Restrictions have been imposed on RT and Sputnik news agencies and their staff. In March the US Department of State made a decision to cap “the number of US-based employees of Xinhua News Agency, China Global Television Network, China Radio International and China Daily Distribution Corp at 100 from 160 currently”. In May, the US Department of Homeland Security imposed new visa restrictions “against Chinese nationals working as journalists in the United States”.
In fact, the effect of censorship is being felt not only by foreign but also domestic media outlets in the United States. For example, the Committee to Protect Journalists, an organization based in New York, has continuously reported about physical attacks on journalists working in the United States. At times, media outlets have been sued for publishing reports critical of certain individuals or agencies. Journalists have also been pressured to reveal their confidential sources and to quit their jobs. In July, journalist Bari Weiss published a scathing resignation letter that she sent to Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times, in which she talks about unlawful discrimination and the illiberal work environment at the newspaper. Editorial page editor James Bennet resigned after admitting that an op-ed in the New York Times, calling for the deployment of federal troops into major American cities amid nationwide protests and riots, should not have been published blaming “a break down in the editorial process for the blunder”.
It would seem that any perceived transgression by a reporter can result in imposition of restrictions or even repression. Jon Caldara who worked for The Denver Post since 2016 and wrote about “a range of issues, especially those related to political and economic freedom” lost his job for stating that “sex is binary”.
Yet another notable example of limitations on freedom of the press imposed in the United States is the case instigated against Julian Assange (an activist and founder of WikiLeaks) by the US government, which formally requested his extradition. He is currently serving his 50-week prison sentence in the United Kingdom. In order to discourage alternative media outlets from publishing reports critical of the US government, the US Department of Justice charged Julian Assange on 18 counts. If convicted, he could receive a sentence of up to 175 years in prison.
And in such an unhealthy environment, instead of defending the freedom of the press in the United States and protecting the rights of Julian Assange and journalists who have been wronged, Washington has, surprisingly, chosen to launch propaganda campaigns against violations of press freedom in other nations. These campaigns appear to target countries whose governments have imposed restrictions on work of journalists, who have been trained in the United States to shape public opinion via foreign media outlets.
For example, US Ambassador to Uzbekistan Daniel Rosenblum, who assumed office in May 2019, has recently “joined this fight for justice” by expressing “deep concern” about the case of Uzbek journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev, who was detained by Kyrgyz authorities at Tashkent’s request. “The governments of both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan should respect Mr. Abdullayev’s freedom of movement and allow him to depart the Kyrgyz Republic to his destination of choice,” tweeted the diplomat on August 13. So why has Daniel Rosenblum not been urging the UK to release Julian Assange and allow him to travel to a destination of his choosing (and not the United States)?
At this point in the article, the author would like to explain to his readers why the US Ambassador has been pushing for the release of Bobomurod Abdullayev. On August 9, 2020, the journalist was detained by the Kyrgyz state security service in Bishkek at Tashkent’s request on “suspicion of anonymously criticizing the government on social media”. In September 2017, Uzbek authorities arrested Bobomurod Abdullayev on charges of “conspiracy to overthrow the constitutional regime” “for writing critical articles on various platforms, including social media, under the pseudonym Usman Khaknazarov”. In March 2018, Bobomurod Abdullayev admitted “that he had used a pseudonym to publish critical articles, but that he was not the author of materials calling for violence”. The author suspects that such reports must have been written with help from the outside. On May 7, 2018, “the Tashkent City Criminal Court found Abdullayev guilty of committing an offence under article 159, paragraph 1 (b) of the Criminal Code (offences against the constitutional order of Uzbekistan” and “sentenced him to three years of correctional labor”.
In February 2020, Bobomurod Abdullayev travelled to Kyrgyzstan for a four-month study program at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, but was unable to leave the country due to Coronavirus restrictions. In fact, Bobomurod Abdullayev might have been influenced to become a journalist who strives to shape public opinion via media outlets in Central Asia by well-known organizations, such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Open Society Foundations (established by George Soros) and USAID (the United States Agency for International Development). The aforementioned organizations have been accused of having ties with US intelligence agencies, of attempting to instigate color revolutions in Central Asia and of destabilizing communities with the help of national media outlets.
Incidentally, the fairly new Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Daniel Rosenblum, could be uniquely poised to promote color revolutions because of his vast experience in working with non-profit organizations. “From 2014 to 2019, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs,” which deals with US foreign policy and US relations with the countries of these regions. His experience in the region must have been the reason why he was appointed as the Ambassador to Uzbekistan. The country has been of great interest to the United States lately because of recent developments in Afghanistan and around it; the need to influence the political landscape in Uzbekistan and Central Asia as a whole in a manner beneficial to the United States, and the desire to drive a wedge between the aforementioned nations and China and Russia, thus bringing them closer to the USA with the help of journalists capable of shaping public opinion. And Bobomurod Abdullayev is among such reporters, which is why Daniel Rosenblum is so concerned about his arrest.
Vladimir Platov, an expert on Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.