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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.

Future

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.

Take Action

Here’s what you can do to support free press and journalists respectively

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.

Videos

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

VOA News reporting about the World Press Freedom Day: North Korea, USA and global.

SABC News

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.”

The Quint

“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.”

Daily Maverick

“What does WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY mean in 2020?”

Northern Dispatch

“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

Update Sept. 18th 2020 – A helpful contribution by a reader

Obviously someone outside of my friend circle was actually also reading this article and got in touch with me via Mail recently where she was also sharing the following link to a quite good list of international newspapers and networks. I was going through the list myself, first checking on countries that I know, like Germany, Romania, the USA or some other European countries. Of course I can’t claim this list is complete (pretty sure it’s not), nor do I know about the exact quality of the different networks but as far as I can tell it gives quite a big overview about the worlds news networks and based on what I know of the networks listed for the countries I know, it is a sophisticaed and well-researched list.

Thanks a lot to the reader for that!

websiteplanet.com/blog/complete-index-of-newspapers-across-the-globe/