World Press Freedom Day: Critical Minds for Critical Times.
By Dervla Potter, CRW’s intern and human rights activist.
Today is a day that celebrates the press and all it does to advance us towards peaceful, just and inclusive societies.
In his message to acknowledge journalists and the tireless work they do to highlight what goes on in our world and to recognise that they are a catalyst for change, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres pays tribute to journalists who risk their lives in the name of truth. In his message today he reminds us of the power of free speech, describing it as “a voice for the voiceless” and calls for the end of media crackdowns and attacks on journalists as well as asking for leaders to protect it and to stand against misinformation.
Journalism has fast become one of the most dangerous and frustrating occupations, especially within States who do not react well do criticisms of their establishments. Constantly censored and supressed, journalists face assaults, attacks and even death in order to provide us with a story that their oppressors do not want us to know. As technology develops and allows instant communication to the world, the efforts to control speech and information are also accelerating by governments and private actors in the form of censorship, access restriction, detention and violent acts directed against those with criticisms or whose dissent seems dangerous to the power dynamic. Speaking out is an offence punished in numerous ways including sexual assault, beatings and torture.
Governments are trying to prevent free speech by incorporating anti-media laws into their legislation. Trying to tighten the control of news reporting in Thailand, the Thai government produced a draft bill on the Protection and Promotion of Media Rights, Freedom, Ethics and Professional Standards. The bill provides for a government-appointed national media council to regulate all media platforms and subjects anyone who reports news to the public without a government issued licence and their company or organisation to up to 3 years in prison and a 60,000 baht fine. More than 30 media organisations in Thailand have expressed concern over this misnamed bill which is expected to be considered this month, especially as reporters will constantly have the threat of imprisonment on their mind while working.
It is not only journalists that face risks in the honest reporting of news, we face a pan media crackdown across numerous States. Independent journalism is being stamped out. Both journalists and cartoonists in Turkey are imprisoned for criticisms of President Erdogan, who has tried to shut down opposition for the best part of a decade. His government has shut down at least 156 media outlets and an estimated 2,500 journalists and other media workers have lost their jobs. Campaigns have sprung up against the silencing of Erdogan’s critics, using hashtags such as #FreeTurkeyMedia and #FreeMusaKart, one of the cartoonists that is on trial for opposing Erdogan. These campaigns begin as small twitter campaigns that grow into global movements with supporters who realise that free speech and freedom of expression must be respected.
Azerbaijan also has imprisoned critics of its establishment. The imprisonment of Mehman Huseynov is another step by the Azerbaijani authorities to retaliate against him for his critical journalism and defiance, but also to deter others from seeking justice for police abuse, a persistent and well-documented problem in Azerbaijan.
Attacks against journalists are unfortunately all too common. Since the 2015 terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo company, numerous attacks on individual journalists have been committed widely across the world from Croatia, Mexico, Brazil, Syria, Egypt and Turkey to name a few. Similarly, two thirds of surveyed European journalists have reported being harassed in the last 3 years.
The future of free, independent journalism is under threat as world leaders lean towards greater control over the distribution of information. Even democratic nations are at risk of ignoring the importance of an objective force, if other nations decide to follow in the footsteps of President Trump and ignore facts that are placed before them.
Freedom of speech and freedom of expression is essential for an equal, just society and global leaders must stand up for the respect of objective reports and citizen’s rights to information instead of shrinking the liberty of their citizens.