Remarks on the 70th Anniversary of the FPC

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
December 22, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Hello, everyone. Season’s greetings and a happy 70th birthday to the Foreign Press Center. You know, as I enter the final weeks of my tenure as Secretary of State, I wanted to congratulate the center and all of you for your hard work in reporting on the United States and world affairs. And obviously, both have been presenting extraordinary opportunities for major analysis and reporting this past year.

I thought this would be an appropriate message probably at any time, but it’s particularly relevant today when professional journalism is under siege from numerous directions, whether you write for a living, engage in broadcast journalism, take photographs or film events, your calling is to report the truth. That’s never easy, but in normal circumstances it’s both an essential mission and often a personally fulfilling one.

As we all know, however, truth can be inconvenient. And what isn’t welcome in some quarters will attract opposition, and so it is with journalism in our era. In too many places right now, your profession has become increasingly difficult and even dangerous. All too frequently, journalists are harassed, intimidated, detained, jailed, beaten, or even killed simply for doing their jobs. Many have been targeted while trying to tell stories that need to be told from war zones and places such as Syria or Iraq, Yemen, Ukraine. And for the first time in history, serious journalists have had to compete with technology that enables fake news – vicious, damaging lies masquerading as truth – to poison minds across every border in the space of an eye blink.

So the stakes could not be higher. Take a close look at the major controversies that dominate our headlines, whether they involve terrorism or sectarian violence, cyber attacks, corruption, climate change, or the repression of basic rights. You take a look at those and you see a fundamental battle to define reality. You’ll see efforts being made by some to cover up events that happened and to invent stories that didn’t. You’ll see state and non-state actors alike trying to coopt, censor, and silence those whose job it is to investigate and report facts.

The 70th anniversary of the Foreign Press Center is a really good time to reflect on the importance of this struggle and to reiterate as plainly as possible our determination to push back against the enemies, deniers, and saboteurs of truth.

There is, of course, a clear separation between the responsibilities of the State Department and those of a free and independent press. But there is not a scintilla of difference in the intensity of our mutual support for the principle of press freedom or our understanding of the critical task carried out by independent journalists both in democracies and in countries where civil and political rights are fragile.

Journalists, as you know better than anybody, are watchers, questioners, discoverers, storytellers, guardians, and you deserve the utmost respect for playing those indispensable roles in the structuring of our societies and in the sustaining of our liberties and our rights. Years ago when I served in the U.S. Senate, a colleague of mine, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, said that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but no one is entitled to their own facts. Excuse me. The journalist’s calling is to hold us all to a single standard, whether we call that truth or verite, pravda, ukweli, zhenxiang, verdad, al-haqq, emet, wahrheit or some other word, they all have the same meaning.

At this pivotal moment, it’s up to the defenders of truth in every corner of the world to close ranks, and I am confident that we will do so backed by the simple human desire to know, to understand fully and honestly, the nature of events that shape our lives. That desire has been and remains well-served by the Foreign Press Center and by each of you, and so it is with enormous gratitude that I wish every single one of you a joyous holiday season and a very safe and productive 2017.