TORONTO, Canada, Apr 29 (IPS) – The UN will be commemorating World Press Freedom Day on May 3. The following article is part of a series of IPS features and opinion pieces focused on media freedom globally.Empowered by a global pandemic and the drum beats of war, the strongest despots are growing more despotic, and criminal cartels even more brazen in their violence. Extremists of various hues are also stepping out of the shadows.
Just when the world most needs press freedom to thrive, the liberties that societies only really treasure when they are emasculated are coming under more pressure from different directions, old and new.
A similar pattern is seen in Bangladesh where suspected narco-traffickers killed Bangladeshi journalist Mohiuddin Sarker Nayeem on April 13.
The Committee to Protect Journalists publishes an annual Global Impunity Index and notes that no one has been held to account in 81% of journalist murders worldwide over the past 10 years. Somalia tops the list, with Mexico ranked 6th and Bangladesh 11th.
State-sponsored or tolerated violence and political persecution aside, world press freedom is also being eroded in an insidious way in places where such freedoms are commonly understood to be vital in sustaining well-functioning democracies. Coupled with the apparently unstoppable rise of social media as a source of information – some surveys suggest 50% of adults in the US and UK get their news from social media – the state of much of the traditional press, digital or not, is far from healthy.
The annual Digital News Report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found the US ranked last in media trust, at 29%, among 92,000 news consumers polled in 46 countries. (Finland came top).
Governments must not be passive while the same powerful corporate lobbies that have spent fortunes over decades spreading climate dis/misinformation in traditional media now feed on the rapacity of Big Tech social media, which are failing to disclose comprehensive policies to combat this. Climate disinformation as a threat to climate action is highlighted in the latest UN Climate Reports.
Press offices of international organisations, particularly the UN and large INGOs, also have a particular responsibility to uphold media freedom by eschewing the corporate dark arts of delay, denial and obfuscation.
A new proposal by the EU executive to protect journalists and campaigners from so-called vexatious lawsuits is highly welcome. The move would target “strategic lawsuits against public participation” known as Slapps, where the rich misuse legal means to silence troublesome investigative reporters and NGOs.
No press freedom, no democracy. Just like freedom of speech, that does not mean a free press can publish whatever it wants. Both need to be defined and, in these very dark times, defended.
Farhana Haque Rahman is Senior Vice President of IPS Inter Press Service and Executive Director IPS North America, including it’s UN Bureau; she served as the elected Director General of IPS from 2015-2019. A journalist and communications expert, she is a former senior official of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.