Today is World Press Freedom Day, a time to reflect not just on what are traditionally thought of as press freedoms, but also on ordinary citizen’s ability to share and access information via our digital networks.
[S]ecuring the safety of journalists continues to be a challenge due to an upward trend in the killings of journalists, media workers, and social media producers. In 2012 alone, UNESCO’s Director-General condemned the killings of 121 journalists, almost double the annual figures of 2011 and 2010. In addition, there continues to be widespread harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrest and online attacks on journalists in many parts of the world. To compound the problem, the rate of impunity for crimes against journalists, media workers and social media producers remains extremely high.
Responding to this overall context of press freedom, WPFD 2013 focuses on the theme of “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media” and puts the spotlight in particular on the issues of safety of journalists, combating impunity for crimes against freedom of expression, and securing a free and open Internet as the precondition for safety online.
Reporters Without Borders’ annual World Press Freedom Index is a good place to explore how press freedoms work — or don’t work — globally. At the top of the list are Finland, Norway and the Netherlands. Down at the bottom are the same three that that were there a year ago: Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.
Freedom House reports that the percentage of the world’s population “living in societies with a fully free press has fallen to its lowest level in over a decade”:
At first glance, it might seem counterintuitive that media freedom is on the decline. After all, in a world in which news is being produced by a broader range of professionals – as well as citizen journalists and bloggers – information is flowing at faster rates than ever before. And with news being transmitted through a greater variety of mediums – including newspapers, radio, television, the internet, mobile phones, flash drives, and social media – one might expect the level of media freedom worldwide to be improving, not worsening.
As noted, press freedom doesn’t just affect professional journalists, but ordinary citizens committing acts of journalism, activists documenting abuses and members of civil society. Take, for instance, four men in Saudi Arabia interrogated over their attempts to launch a human rights organization. The charge against them, according to Amnesty International: ”founding and publicizing an unlicensed organization as well as launching websites without authorization.”
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.