On World Press Freedom Day 2018, I call on governments to strengthen press freedom, and to protect journalists. Promoting a free press is standing up for our right to truth." — António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General
May 3rd was World Press Freedom Day. The 2018 theme—Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law—focuses on the opportunity we all have to protect and celebrate the lives of journalist all over the world who risk their very lives to bring us the news. This year celebrating World Press Freedom Day may be more important than ever.
As USA Today reported, “threats, intimidation, even killings of journalists for their work is on the rise from South America to Europe to Asia. This week, 10 journalists and photographers were killed in Afghanistan. Elections came and are coming this year in some of the more challenging countries, including Myanmar, Indonesia and Mexico. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), there are 262 journalists languishing in jails in countries such as Turkey, China and Egypt as of 2017, where government punishment for reporting the truth is no laughing matter. In 2018 so far, 27 journalist have been killed worldwide. The hashtag #WorldPressFreedomDay, trending on Twitter, beautifully honors this day of remembrance and solidarity. A day not only to remember those lost, but to promote high-quality journalism, and shared vision of, justice and freedom for all!
In March, the assassination of Human Rights activist, Marielle Franco, led thousands of outraged mourners to protest her targeted killing. Franco was a black, outspoken feminist who grew up in a poor neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro. She fought to protect society by denouncing police violence and exposing the worsening gun violence in impoverished parts of Rio. Franco was a councilperson and city council rapporteur, commissioned to monitor the military interventions in Rio de Janeiro. Her murder is unsolved. In fact, more than 90% of killings of journalists worldwide have gone unsolved, according to the CPJ.
NPR reported just this week, “Afghan photojournalist Shah Marai sent the WhatsApp message Monday to a colleague stuck in traffic, trying to reach the scene of a suicide attack in Kabul. Minutes later, Marai, the chief photographer for Agence France-Presse, was killed in a second attack. The 41-year-old photographer was one of at least nine Afghan journalists and more than two dozen others who lost their lives in the day's coordinated suicide bombings, for which ISIS claimed responsibility. The second attacker was reported to have been disguised as a video cameraman.”
Fake news, another threat to freedom within the press, is a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media. It’s an issue the public and journalist both face. Discrediting reporters, disseminating propaganda and new ‘anti-fake news acts’ all threaten high-quality reporting. And as the idea of ‘fake news’ spreads, so do the imprisonments. In Malaysia, Salah Salem Sulaiman, 46, has been found guilty under Malaysia’s Anti-Fake News Act. According to Verge, “the Anti-Fake News Act has been criticized for impeding on free speech and its loose definition of fake news, which is explained as “news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false. The law applies to stories, video, audio content, and social media, and also applies to foreigners if Malaysia or one of its citizens are impacted.”
This year’s theme highlights the need for enabling a legal environment for press freedom—a goal which requires accountability, efficiency and transparent institutions at all levels. The United States is not doing well at the moment. In fact, the United States dropped to No. 45 among 180 countries for press freedom this year, according to the World Press Freedom Index, by Reporters Without Borders. In a democracy praised for it’s civil liberties, this fundamental human right is being oppressed.
As journalist all over the world fight for the freedom to express truth through the written and verbal word, let’s not take this freedom for granted. Let’s celebrate this costly freedom, not just today, but every day!