Nancy Schiller: A Free Press Is Essential to a Free Society

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This Fourth of July, America celebrates its 244th birthday. As we witness the challenges the United States is facing—the COVID crisis and its related economic impact, racial tension, and upcoming national elections—some critics suggest that America’s best days are in the past. I do not share that view. America has survived many crises over the years and has always come out stronger.

What is it that keeps America’s democracy flourishing when many other forms of government are left in the dustbin of history?

The strength of American democracy rests on four pillars: the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches of government, which are separate and equal, and the media, which operates independently of all three branches of government. Each pillar reinforces and complements the other.

Democracies are not perfect all the time. Judicial independence may be tested. Rule of law may experience corruption pressure. Independent media may be under attack. For a country’s democracy to thrive, all four pillars must be fair, independent, accountable, and responsive to the needs of its citizens.

The fourth pillar, independent media, holds decision-makers to account by providing information that voters base their decisions on and by serving as an essential watchdog that uncovers wrongdoings. By its very existence, independent media challenges those in power. That is why it is critical to a democracy. And that is why it is so often under threat. Without a free press, democracy withers.

Benjamin Franklin, an inventor, scholar, newspaper publisher, and one of the visionaries who helped shape the US Constitution, was a champion of the First Amendment. “Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government,” he said: “When this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins.”

The entire world knows about the challenges the United States is facing now thanks to our independent media. The information that is fully available to all allows us to understand our challenges and to take responsibility as individual citizens to address them. This is why I am confident that we will emerge even stronger from our current situation.

As citizens, we must be ever watchful to ensure our democracies remain strong. This is true in the best of times and especially true in challenging times.

Over the past 30 years, the America for Bulgaria Foundation and its predecessor organizations, the Bulgarian-American Enterprise Fund and the Bulgarian-American Credit Bank, have partnered with Bulgarian institutions, companies, nonprofit organizations, communities, and visionary leaders to advance the country’s private sector and related democratic institutions.

I have been a witness to remarkable achievements—in business, education, public service, and civil society—as Bulgarians embrace economic freedom, entrepreneurship, rule of law, and a commitment to transparency. These are the essential building blocks for growing Bulgaria’s economy and strengthening its young democracy.

I am especially proud of our grantees who are making major contributions to the positive developments in these areas, sometimes at great personal risk. Again and again, in both good times and challenging times, they prove their resolve and determination.

A successful democracy enhances the dignity and quality of life for all of its citizens.

Happy 244th birthday to America… and here’s to many, many more. May the United States and Bulgaria continue to celebrate and together be lands of opportunity, prosperity, and justice for all.

Nancy L. Schiller
President & CEO
America for Bulgaria Foundation

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