Press freedom around the world ‘under attack’

On the 20th anniversary of world press freedom day, policymakers and stakeholders have spoken of the importance of press freedom and how journalists upholding this fundamental human right are finding themselves “under attack”.

Press freedom is considered to be vital in the protection of human rights, yet censorship remains, not just in countries which are regarded to have poor human rights records, such as North Korea, China or Russia, but also here in Europe.

Press restrictions in Egypt, our southern Mediterranean partner, and increasingly restrictive media laws in Hungary, provide examples of censorship closer to home, and every day journalists and the media find themselves at risk across the world.

In a message delivered at a New York event on Wednesday, organised by UNESCO to mark world press freedom day, secretary general of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon said, “Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right.”

“It is a cornerstone of good governance, sustainable development, and lasting peace and security,” said Ki-moon.

“Every day around the world, journalists and media workers are under attack, they face intimidation, threats and violence from governments, corporations, criminals or other forces that wish to silence or censor.”

With this year’s world press day theme of ‘Safe to speak: securing freedom of expression in all media’, the UN says highlights there is a need for action to ensure that all journalists have the right to carry out their essential work.

“From traditional media platforms, such as radio, print and television, to newer and more and more popular social media, blogs and citizen-led reporting, journalists are increasingly at risk,” stressed the UN secretary general.

He also said that “at least 120” journalists have been killed in the past year, with hundreds more being detained.

“These are individual tragedies; collectively, they are an assault on the right of all people to the truth. I am especially concerned that so many of the perpetrators escape any form of punishment.”

He continued, “As we mark world press freedom day, let us pledge to do our utmost to enable all journalists in all media to do their jobs. When it is safe to speak, the whole world benefits.”

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton echoed Ki-moon’s statement, saying, “On the 20th anniversary of world press freedom day, the EU pays tribute to journalists worldwide who dedicate their lives – sometimes at great personal cost – to reporting events or expressing views that many might prefer to silence.

“A free, independent and vibrant press is indispensable in any democratic society. The EU is determined to fight for press freedom worldwide and condemns the increasing level of intimidation, violence and censorship that journalists face in many countries.

The British official said that the EU will continue to promote freedom of expression, and that it calls on governments “to allow journalists to work in safety and security, and without the fear of censorship or prosecution”.

“The EU will continue to condemn violations of the right to freedom of expression in all media with a view to ensuring that journalists across the world can discharge their professional duties without hindrance,” she added.

Marietje Schaake, parliament’s rapporteur on press and media freedom, said, “We should care about press freedom because it is essential to protect and enable human rights and fundamental freedoms.

“In democratic societies, free, diverse and pluralist media enable public debates and are essential checks on power. But today, journalists, media and freedom of speech are globally under threat. In the most extreme cases journalists are murdered or imprisoned.

The ALDE deputy said that online censorship, surveillance and blocking of access to information are widespread and that journalists and bloggers must be supported.

“Digitisation of press and media has multiplied the number of voices and platforms, but new threats have also emerged. Online censorship, surveillance and blocking of access to information are widespread.

“In our globally connected world decisions in one place have effects in the other, so if we work together we can protect freedom of the press and digital freedom worldwide.

German MEP Barbara Lochbihler, who chairs parliament’s human rights subcommittee, also spoke about the difficulties in maintaining press freedom.

She said, “On world press freedom day we should remember that pressure on journalists around the world remains high, not least due to the fact that many of them are also defenders of human rights and justice by being at the forefront of revealing misdoings, notably in countries where fundamental rights are violated.”

“Much still needs to be done but most importantly journalists need to be protected from physical and psychological harm, intimidation and unfair judicial proceedings.”

The Greens deputy continued, “Governments need to be continuously reminded of their duty to respect and uphold the right of freedom of expression and the EU needs a more structured approach to mainstream this right in all its external actions and to promote local capacity-building for an independent media landscape.”

Meanwhile, Angela Mills Wade, executive director of the European publishing council, said, “Press freedom is vital for democracy and is an essential vehicle for freedom of expression.

“This freedom is not something we can take for granted. As we see in Hungary, even in Europe there is a regime intent on limiting freedom of expression and freedom of the press”.

“But not only do we fight against political threats but also economic ones; ensuring that the media is commercially viable is extremely important. It is essential that the media, traditional and new, are able to build sustainable business models to fund quality, authoritative and diverse content,” she added.


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