On May 3rd, countries worldwide were celebrating World Press Freedom day. Indeed, since 1993, the importance of defending the public’s right to information is official thanks to the United Nations General Assembly. Each year, this day allows us to celebrate freedom, to honour the memory of missing journalists, and to evaluate and communicate about the issues that remain today. Why is freedom of the press worth standing for and what does it look today on a global scale? Here’s what to remember.
No democracy without freedom of the press
« 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 regardless of frontiers« The United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights
By providing access to information, the freedom of the press allows the individuals to get aware and build their own opinion about the world. This is the case at both local and global scales. Wherever you live, awareness of what’s going on next door allows you to become part of the world you’re living in. It gives you the opportunity to know your people and stand for what you believe in, thanks to the knowledge it brings out about issues you would have never heard of otherwise. For governments, media give them a chance to understand what citizens expect from them, why they demonstrate in the street, what progress they want to see. As an example, citizen media and international reporters give a voice to the oppressed, people you might never meet if you do not turn on your TV or read this article on Facebook. Access to information has a key role in humanity because it gives us the knowledge and the opening to the world we need to progress as citizens.
“How can we combat atrocities against civilians, tackle the tragedy of child soldiers, defend women’s rights or defend our environment if journalists aren’t free to report the facts, draw attention to abuses and appeal to the public’s conscience? There are countries where the torturers stopped torturing when the media began talking about them, and corrupt politicians abandoned shady practices when investigative journalists publish compromising information.” – Reporter Without Borders
Now, we know people love to criticize media. Newspapers are blamed for sensationalizing, for providing misinformation and fake news, especially since social media are taking a huge space in the dissemination of information. Fair enough, the practice of journalism has evolved with the rise of internet and improvement is a must. Yet, denouncing the media on their manner to report the facts they are covering is a privilege in a world where around half of the population has no access to free information. Because controlling the media is controlling the people, it’s no surprise the basic tools for an effective dictature are censorship and propaganda, which are unfortunately very known by political leaders.
Being a journalist: global issues
Because of their fundamental power of information and denunciation of systems, organizations or individuals, journalists are the targets of oppressors. Threats, detention, kidnapping and murders are some of the risks investigative reporters have to face today still. Currently, the worst countries for journalists are Turkmenistan, North Korea, Eritrea and China, where the system of media is nonexistent or fully based on the government’s propaganda. Numbers speak by themselves.
Reporters Without Borders – May 2019
Even in Western countries, freedom of the press as well as the priority on the news is highly contestable. France has the 32nd position out on 180 on the “ 2019 freedom of the press top” made by Reporters Without Borders. In France, 90% of daily newspapers belong to 10 billionaires (Basta !). The main difference with the media system in the dictatures is that we are aware of it. Four years after the dramatic terror attack in Charlie Hebdo, the latter still exists and keeps on caricaturing our dear politicians.
In 2012, Brazil was rated one of the 5th most dangerous countries in the world for journalists by Reporters Without Borders. This is due to the violence on the public protests they have to cover, abusive trials and murders in case of investigative journalism. In addition to that, most of its media belong to conservative business family groups, which obviously does not benefit the journalists.
“Jair Bolsonaro’s election as president in October 2018 after a campaign marked by hate speech, disinformation, violence against journalists and contempt for human rights heralds a dark era for democracy and press freedom in Brazil. Media ownership continues to be very concentrated, especially in the hands of big business families that are often closely linked to the political class. The confidentiality of journalists’ sources is under constant attack and many investigative reporters have been subjected to abusive judicial proceedings.”- Reporters Without Borders
Among the most known Brazilian victims of killing attacks were Gleydson Carvalho, Evany José Metzker, Pedro Palma, Santiago Ilídio Andrade and Décio Sá.
Being now rated as the 105th countries on RFS’ scale, the country lost 3 positions since last year, as the situation is really not getting better. To make things worse, Bolsonaro recently made the decision to allow some of journalists to owe weapons to protect themselves. If one takes into account the fact that, in 2016, Brazil had the highest rate of death by gunshots in the world (Health Data), it is legitimate to call the president’s idea into question. However, one must note two laws have been passed within the past 5 years for Brazilian journalists, to allow them to have access to the public information about the government, as well as being free to communicate online thanks to the Marco Civil law. This is indeed not enough to make things change, but it shows a desire to protect the journalists, which they must get urgently.
Worldwide, the legal frame of the freedom of the press is getting tougher for the sake of the fight against terrorism, and countries known for to be great examples of freedom of opinion start to be affected as well: In winter 2016, two Finnish journalists have given up their job because of the pression of the government that required to be less criticized in the media. As media bashing becomes a trend among political leaders, with Mr. Trump as a great example, society tends to trust them less, which obviously does not help them getting their back rights. Today, journalism has a negative publicity, despite its major role in the protection of democracy. Let’s use the celebration of the freedom of the press as a reminder that no right can be taken for granted, and that we should all support reporters for the risks they are taking in the name of freedom.
If you are keen to know more or would like to support their cause, check it out here: https://rsf.org/en
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the opinions of Young Enough Ambition or its staff.