Alarming Trends for Press, Human Rights and Public Policy

February 12, 2007
Sarah Abrams

The decline of U.S. influence around the world in the past several years is having a significant impact on the press, human rights and foreign policy, according to Samantha Power, Kennedy School professor of U.S. foreign policy, who spoke at a brown bag Monday afternoon.
The best resourced, most thorough investigative work in journalism takes place in the United States, said Power, but because U.S. influence around the world is waning, this work is no longer having the impact it once did.
“When the United States stands up on Darfur in response to public pressure and press exposure, it doesn’t produce anywhere near the result it would have prior to the war in Iraq,” she said. “China’s influence with Sudan offsets the U.S. influence.”
Another trend of concern, says Power, is the “backsliding on freedom” in countries once thought to
be moving in the right direction regarding human rights. Citing Russia and Venezuela as examples, Power noted that an “emboldened cluster of countries” has emerged over the last several years that are flush with power
and an ability to do what they want within their own borders. “You see what Tom Friedman calls ‘petro-authoritarianism,’” she said. While some countries are backsliding, said Power, other countries, such as Afghanistan and Palestine, are dangerous, failing states. “And in Iraq, journalists are increasingly more vulnerable so they are finding it difficult to do meaningful investigative work.”
Finally, poor policy decisions by U.S. leaders is a trend that is creating a heightened sense of vulnerability. “The fear that stems from U.S. vulnerability is fueling not a greater openness, but a propensity to close down and scale back our freedoms in terms of detention policies or in terms of press policies,” said Power.
The seminar was sponsored by the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.
Related Article — On February 5, the Kennedy School screened a documentary about genocide entitled "Screamers." Link to the Harvard Gazette story on the event.
Photo: Mike Casey

Samantha Power image

Samantha Power, Kennedy School professor of U.S. foreign policy.

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