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Tim Cook accepts Newseum 2017 Free Expression Award, says companies should have values

Apple CEO Tim Cook (right) accepts Newseum Free Expression Award from Washington Post CEO Fred Ryan.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to accept the institute's 2017 Free Expression Award, for which the tech mogul was honored in the Free Speech category. AppleInsider was there live, and offers highlights from the event.

Prior to the award presentation by Washington Post CEO and publisher Fred Ryan, the Newseum played a video celebrating Cook and Apple's accomplishments, including brief recounting of Cook's commencement speech at George Washington University, clips from an interview with ABC News regarding the debacle over the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone 5c, and bits and pieces from assorted Apple store openings.

"I'm very grateful for the award and accept it tonight on behalf of everyone at Apple," Cook said, quipping that he was the only person in the room with an iPad.

In a brief acceptance speech, Cook addressed the difficulty of adapting the tenets laid forth in the First Amendment to modern technology. He noted that the Founding Fathers didn't have app developers, or other modern artists, in mind when they established the basis of American ideology.

"We know that these freedoms require protection," Cook said of First Amendment rights. "Not just the forms of speech that entertain us, but the ones that challenge us. The ones that unnerve and even displease us. They're the ones that need protection the most. It's no accident that these freedoms are enshrined and protected in the First Amendment. They are the foundation to so many of our rights."

Cook gathered applause in proportion to the other selectees of the night following the presentation, if not a bit louder and longer, from a crowd mostly consisting of luminaries in government, civil rights, and journalism.

"This is a responsibility that Apple takes very seriously," Cook said. "First we defend, we work to defend these freedoms by enabling people around the world to speak up. And second, we do it by speaking up ourselves. Because companies can, and should have values."

Relating those undeniable rights to tech, Cooks echoed recent statements regarding what place the tech industry should have — if any — in the political process.

"At Apple we are not just enabling others to speak up, we are doing so ourselves," he said.

Indeed, with Cook at the helm, Apple has become an increasingly outspoken voice when it comes to personal data security, environmental awareness and human rights. Most recently, Apple publicly decried the Trump administration's withdrawal of federal protections for transgender students, an issue for which the company has long fought. Earlier this year, Apple signed on to an amicus brief opposing Trump's immigration ban, a measure that was later blocked in federal court.

The Newseum announced its picks for the 2017 Free Expression Award in February. The award honors those individuals who "have taken personal or professional risks in sharing critical information with the public, have been censored or punished by authorities or other groups for their work, or have pushed boundaries in artistic and media expression."

Some other notable winners this year included U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the organization, and Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, who received an Arts and Entertainment Award shared with Hatch Beauty chairman Christie Hefner.

The Newseum, primarily funded and controlled by the Freedom Forum, is a First Amendment advocacy museum, tracing the evolution of journalism, print, and electronic communication from earliest days of the United States to the technologies of the present and the future. The museum attracts over 800,000 visitors per year.

During Cook's speech — the longest of the night — nearly the entire body of invitees and attendees seated close to the podium snapped photos on their iPhones.