Free press in the digital age.

Free press in the digital age. Credit: iStock

A year ago, the actions of the Department of Justice were stunning.

In May 2013, our nation learned about the secretive seizure of the phone records of Associated Press journalists. We soon learned that the intrusive monitoring was not isolated as Fox News James Rosen had been labeled a "possible co-conspirator" and his personal email and cellphone was monitored. The courts attempted to force New York Times reporter James Risen to disclose his confidential sources.

The chilling effect on newsrooms across the country set in, and reporters began labeling the Obama administration as the "most secretive" administration they had yet to cover.

It was a very sobering time for the newspaper industry and it is a battle we must fight each day. It is why on May 3, we commemorate World Press Freedom Day. We recognize that the media directly contributes to the well-being of every citizen and country.

Last July, Egypt's authorities began targeting and arbitrarily persecuting local and foreign media members. Four Al-Jazeera reporters have been imprisoned since December for no clear crime.

In October, Queen Elizabeth signed a Royal Charter enabling government regulators to influence editorial content across media in England.

In the first three months of 2014, Russia launched a strategic assault on the last independent news station, and in March escalated its already strict censorship laws to target news sites.

Just weeks ago, Syria was named the most dangerous country for journalists, with a record of 7 journalists murdered in 2013 and a rising number of targeted killings and abductions in the midst of the war.

Additionally, the Inter American Press Association passed a resolution -- one we have added our voice to -- condemning the actions in Venezuela where more than 100 journalists been arrested, threatened, or the victims of violence.

In totality, the assault on global press freedom is frightening. From war zones and struggling governments to traditionally stable democracies such as our own, leaders have demonstrated that they do not prioritize the public's right to know.

This is wrong. A free press gives the people power.

It allows journalists to go behind-the-scenes of governments, businesses, institutions and even prominent leaders, exposing corruption and checking their power when necessary. It gives the public the responsibility to understand what is going on and the power to shape their community and country accordingly.

This outright assault on media protections must stop. It directly affects the reporters and sources who risk careers and even lives for the truth. It also affects citizens in every country where truth is threatened and they are stripped of the power and responsibility to fight for what they believe in.

A strong country is one built on empowered, engaged citizens.

It has now been a year since Americans first learned of the AP phone records. Since then, we have fallen from 46th place on the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

Freedom in every sense has long been a cherished and essential element of our democracy. I believe it is time for America to once again take a stand and show the rest of the world why press freedom is important and how to protect it.

I believe we are ready to do so.

We have made great strides. In September, the bipartisan Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Free Flow of Information Act, a federal bill that would be the first to protect journalists from identifying their confidential sources in federal court -- preserving the integrity of the newsgathering process and the quality of information across all platforms.

Formalizing this media "shield law," which is awaiting a full vote in Congress, will be a key step for America in protecting our citizens, democracy and right to know.

It is my hope that many will recognize the importance of journalism and take up this cause throughout the world, and that next year we will see a dramatic change in press freedom.

We must individually stand up for our own rights in our own country and demand the protection and freedom of the press.