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Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
This is article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948 and it is one of the fundamental rights of everyone on this planet.
We (…) declare that, consistent with article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the establishment, maintenance and fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press is essential to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation, and for economic development.
And this is the first paragraph of the so-called Windhoek Declaration. It was declared on May 3 on the last day of a five-day-seminar of the UNESCO called “Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press”, held in Windhoek/Namibia. Two years later in 1993 the General Assembly of the United Nations declared this day as the World Press Freedom Day. Since then it stands to raise awareness of the importance of the freedom of press and to uphold the right to freedom of expression which is based on article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948.
The current situation by Reporters Without Borders
Today’s situation of press freedom is severe due to different situations threatening journalism’s present and future. The non-profit NGO Reporters Without Borders, also known as Reporters sans frontières (RSF), reports that 360 journalists, citizens journalists or media assistants are currently imprisoned and 11 killed in this year of 2020 already in various countries like Iraq and Syria but also in Nigeria and Paraguay for instance.
RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire says that “we are entering a decisive decade for journalism linked to crises that affect its future,” and that “the coronavirus pandemic illustrates the negative factors threatening the right to reliable information, and is itself an exacerbating factor. What will freedom of information, pluralism and reliability look like in 2030? The answer to that question is being determined today.”
The World Press Freedom Index
The World Press Freedom Index, published annually by the RSF was just released recently on April 21 and declares that “the coming decade will be decisive for the future of journalism, with the COVID-19 pandemic highlighting and amplifying the many crises that threaten the right to freely reported, independent, diverse and reliable information.”
Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Finland or Denmark again are on top of the list of the 180 countries. On the bottom there isn’t much of a change with North Korea (-1 at 180th) taking over Turkmenistan (+1 at 179th) as the worst-ranked country and Eritrea (178th) as Africa’s bottom of the pile. Negative developments were also noticed in Haiti (-21 at 83th) for instance due to an ongoing political crisis and violent protests with journalists being attacked and one killed in 2019.
A very positive and huge leap up to the top on the other hand can be seen with the Maldives (+19 at 79th) and Malaysia (+22 at 101) “thanks to the beneficial effects of changes of government through the polls.” the RSF says. Welcoming changes were also observed in Sudan (+16 at 159th) after recent events in terms of the revolution of 2018 which eventually ended in the removal of Omar al-Bashir. The situation in Germany (+2 at 11th) improved a little bit due a decline in the numbers of attacks against journalists.
Main Global Crisis
The RSF sees five main “crises” which have an impact on free press. A geopolitical crisis with countries like China (177th) or Saudi Arabia (+2 at 170th) as well Russia (149th) who show no intention in opening up for a free press: “Leaders of dictatorial, authoritarian or populist regimes make every effort to suppress information and impose their visions of a world without pluralism and independent journalism.”
Due to a technological crisis in terms of digitalisation journalism is facing new challenges. “Propaganda, advertising, rumour and journalism are in direct competition” and “the growing confusion between commercial, political and editorial content has destabilised democratic guarantees of freedom of opinion and expression” the RSF states.
A crisis of democracy in countries with elected leaders like Donald Trump in the United States (+3 at 45th) or Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil (-2 at 107th) denigration against journalists is continuing with the RSF speaking of a “growing hostility and even hatred towards journalists”.
Also a general lack of trust can be observed in many countries worldwide by people seeing the established media as them publishing contaminated content and misleading the public. This led to an increasing number of violence against journalists of the public’s anger in countries like Ecuador (-1 at 98th) as well as in France (-2 at 32nd).
Finally the digital transformation meant a huge loss in money in the last years with news organisations restructuring and many journalists losing their jobs. As the RSF reports, “newspapers that are in a much weaker economic situation are naturally less able to resist pressure.”
The COVID-19 crisis
The current situation of the COVID-19 crisis is another burden for freedom of press globally. With China and Iran (-3 at 173rd) censoring their media intensively during the outbreak journalists see themselves under an increasing pressure in the current light of reporting about one of the most important events of recent history. In Hungary (-2 at 89th) prime minister Victor Orban can now rule by decree and passed a law that leads up to five years in prison for false information regarding the coronavirus. Generally the coronavirus lead to closed borders and public life like public gatherings/demonstrations or practice of religion being limited or even prohibited. In the end this also creates a more difficult situation for journalists around the world.
It has yet to be seen how a) the COVID-19 crisis will eventually affect the media and b) how the media can cope with and conquer the current global threats for the next decade. The latter will probably be determined in these very months during the corona crisis since this is the ultimate global test to the freedom of press, speech and expression.
It is now the time when we must hold governments accountable to their actions and stand as the antipode to suppression and fake news. It is the time to be the observer and deliver science based and correct information for people to have the chance to stay safe and survive this severe situation. And it is maybe the very first time that the whole world, 7.7 billion people in all continents and countries, are united under one common threat of the coronavirus.
With this common denominator news organisations, journalists, media assistants and everyone involved have the chance to defend their freedom and set an example for future generations of media representatives.
Here’s what you can do to support free press and journalists respectively
- Support a global NGO/NPO with their various actions, by a donation or even a membership. Some of them are:
- ARTICLE 19 (https://www.article19.org/)
- Reporters Without Borders (https://rsf.org/en)
- World Press Photo Foundation (https://www.worldpressphoto.org/)
- The Public Media Alliance (https://www.publicmediaalliance.org/)
- Free Press Unlimited (https://www.freepressunlimited.org/en)
- Society of Professional Journalists (https://www.spj.org/)
- PEN International (https://pen-international.org/)
- Internews (https://internews.org/)
- Free Press (https://www.freepress.net/)
- Suport your local media like newspapers, radio or TV by
- reading, watching, listening to, and sharing local news
- signing up for their newsletters
- a donation
- a subscription if somehow possible
Some more action you can do
- Double (or triple) check the sources and ask where an information is coming from
- Also check the statements given in an article/video/etc. and see if they match and/or make sense, watch out for contradictions for instance
- Flag instances of misinformation on social media
- Try to understand the biases of these sources of information
- Stay informed and update your data if necessary
Disclaimer: I’m not in touch with any of the mentioned organizations in this article, nor do I receive any money and/or benefits, nor can I guarantee the credibility of these organizations to 100% since I honestly declare that I didn’t do a complete background check of every single organization.
Further information and helpful links:
The United Nations as well as news agencies around the world have published today. See a list of up-to-date content below.
United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres.
“Journalists and media workers are crucial to helping us make informed decisions. As the world fights the COVID-19 pandemic, those decisions can make the difference between life and death.”
UN Special Rapporteur, David Kaye.
“Around the world over the last several years we have seen an increase in the number of laws that support and that provide access to journalists (…) to access information withheld by public authorities. But there’s also a parallel requirement, and that requirement is that governments also provide honest information to the public.”
The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir.
“Every year on the 3rd of May World Press Freedom Day is a reminder that our societies can not strive without a free press.”
UNESCO / Forbidden Stories
A media organization that works to continue the free and independent reporting of journalists facing threats and murder.
Deutsche Welle (DW) News
DW News about the recently published World Press Freedom Index by the RSF.
VOA News reporting about the World Press Freedom Day: North Korea, USA and global.
South African SABC News reporting, incl. an interview with the director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO, Professor Guy Berger.
IPS News Agency
“In the words of Albert Camus, >…without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad.<”
Cambodian Center for Human Rights
“Journalists are very important in bringing facts and useful information about the COVID-19 virus to the people.”
“You read the newspaper. You watch the 9 pm news. You’re not missing out on any big news. And you think everything is fine with the press in India.”
“What does WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY mean in 2020?”
“Northern Dispatch was born out of the need of the peoples movement in Northern Luzon (Philippines) to tell the world of their stories, struggles and aspirations.”
Pages and other content
Find numerous interviews of the RSF, including Edward Snowden, Philippine journalist Maria Ressa and RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire here: rsf.org/world-press-freedom-day
The UNESCO’s dedicated website with various information on the World Press Freedom Day: unesco.org/commemorations/worldpressfreedomday
The UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize: unesco.org/prizes/guillermo-cano
The Difference Day Event: differenceday.com
The Windhoek Declaration: wikipedia.org/wiki/Windhoek_Declaration
The Namibian – The Impact of the Windhoek Declaration: namibian.com.na/150285/archive-read/The-Impact-Of-The-Windhoek-Declaration
The World Press Freedom Day: wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Press_Freedom_Day