Media is under attack

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Today, more than at any time in our recent past, the media is under attack. That was among the messages delivered at the United Nations official commemoration of World Press Freedom Day in New York under the theme: “Keeping Power in Check – media, justice and the rule of law.”

The role of independent and pluralistic media was recognised as having an indispensable role in holding those in power to account and without which the Sustainable Development Goals would not be achieved come 2030.

There was a clarion but simple call here – journalists need to be free to do their work. But increasingly, media professionals are the victims of unjust laws, imprisonment and murder – as was the case when 10 were killed in attacks in Afghanistan earlier this week.

President of the General Assembly, Miroslav Lajcak says 32 journalists were killed in 2018.

“None of the journalists in this room are afraid of being attacked right now, but the situation is quite different in the rest of the world. Just this week we just heard for example at least 10 journalists were killed in Afghanistan. That brings the total amount of journalists killed in 2018 to 32 and we are not even halfway through this year. We cannot become complacent to these kinds of attacks. They cannot become the new normal, we must also remember that the safety of journalists is not just an issue in war zones, journalists can be murdered anywhere in any of our countries.”

A report by UNESCO on world trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development finds that media independence is weakening and professional standards of journalism eroded by economic forces and a lack of recognition by political actors among others.

Social media and the dissemination and manipulation of false information or propaganda are also flagged as a major concern.

Lead Researcher on the report, Nicole Stremlau says, “We’re seeing growing authoritarian tendencies that are often closing spaces. And this has a significant impact on press freedom and the safety of journalists. So a recent Gallup poll of citizens in 131 countries across the world suggested that there’s a general perception of declining media freedoms. And our report highlighted that public trust in the credibility of traditional media is also declining so globally we’re seeing trends of delegitimising the work of journalists, the rise of discourse around fake news and the growing tendency of an intolerance of differences.”

Some 262 journalists were jailed in 2017 according to the Committee on the Protection of Journalists with Turkey, China and Egypt accounting for 51% of the total. 80% of those cover politics.

Jan Kickert is Austria’s Ambassador to the UN at the Chair of the General Assembly Committee on Information. He says free media are crucial in all our societies to ensure the accountability of our governments towards the people.

“And this is not only a human rights issue. Without the pressure of a free press, the rule of law withers and without the rule of law corruption thrives. Public funds are misappropriated; in short, citizens are robbed of a better future. Without vibrant independent media I simply don’t see how we can ever achieve the sustainable development goals and keep our promise to leave no-one behind.”

In a video message, UN Chief Antonio Gutteres called the media crucial to building transparent and democratic societies. Reporters Without Borders continues to on him to appoint of a Special Representative for the Safety of Journalists to shine a spotlight on the issue.