Skip to content

Threats to press pose danger to democracy

Hatred of journalism fueled by autocrats and wars threatens democracies, international organizations said in calling for more anti-hate efforts.

Residents behind barbed wire at Sri Lanka's now-shuttered Manik Farm refugee camp
Residents behind barbed wire at Sri Lanka's now-shuttered Manik Farm refugee camp (AN/J. Heilprin)

PARIS (AN) — Hatred of journalism fueled by autocrats and wars is a threat to democracies, international organizations said in calling for greater efforts to counter the hatred through new laws, training and other resources to let journalists work safely.

Reporters Without Borders said hatred for the press “is steadily more visible” in 2018 among 180 countries it monitors each year. In its latest index of world press freedom, the Paris-based organization said hostility towards news media from political leaders is no longer limited to authoritarian countries like Turkey and Egypt.

Media-bashing U.S. President Donald Trump took world's democratic superpower well down in the rankings, while in Europe, where press freedoms are ranking highest for safety, four of the year’s five worst declines were in the nations of Czech Republic, Malta, Serbia and Slovakia.

At a May meeting of the International Federation of Journalists, press representatives explored how to improve journalists’ safety around the globe. More than 1,100 journalists and media staff have been killed in the line of duty in the past 12 years, Brussels-based IFJ said, and many other journalists were routinely violated on the job as a result of law enforcement and restrictive laws.

“It is clear we need laws that protect us that are properly implemented and enforced, we need action to tackle impunity,” IFJ Deputy General Secretary Jeremy Dear told a panel discussion where journalism leaders from Colombia, Indonesia, Nigeria and Kenya called for less censorship, better enforcement of media protection laws, higher pay to support investigative journalism and stronger employer backing for journalists.

Journalists also rallied for World Press Freedom Day on May 3rd in Australia, Britain, Bulgaria, Canada, Congo, France, Norway, Romania, Somalia, Spain and Sri Lanka.

“We need resources in our newsrooms, training in both security and digital security, for the state and employers to fulfill their responsibility for safety and for strong protections for sources and whistleblowers,” Dear said. “Our unions and associations have shown they are committed to fighting for these measures and defending investigative journalism in the face of a range of threats.”

Repression and violence against journalists

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called on governments “to strengthen press freedom, and to protect journalists. Promoting a free press is standing up for our right to truth."

Press freedoms are underscored in the 1976 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice," the treaty says.

As a multilateral treaty, the covenant adopted by the U.N. General Assembly comprises 172 nations. Another six countries — China, Comoros, Cuba, Nauru, Palau and Saint Lucia — signed but did not ratify it. Nineteen others have taken no action on the treaty.

But just as Guterres was saying a free press is “invaluable,” accusations of censorship undercut his intended message. The accusations resulted from the postponement of a U.N. panel discussion about international media freedom and fake news.

The U.N. Alliance of Civilizations, an organization established in 2005 to fight polarization and extremism and to encourage social and cultural diversity, said in a statement it postponed the panel discussion due to a time conflict with another World Press Freedom Day event.

But the U.S.-based News Literacy Project said in a statement the cancellation had to do with a video it made about the “severe restrictions on press freedom in Turkey, Mexico and Egypt, and comments by Russian and Pakistani journalists describing the challenges they face.”

Alan Miller, the project's founder and CEO, said it refused to omit reference to Turkey as the alliance requested. “I could not permit this censorship of our presentation due to the stated concern that it would offend one or more countries engaged in repression and violence against journalists,” he said.

Turkey and Spain co-sponsored the alliance created under then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The alliance said in a statement the video was “unbalanced,” and that it had asked the project to “either make a comprehensive presentation of all countries where press freedom is limited, or to remove reference to specific countries.”

Headed by Qatari diplomat Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser, the alliance also said it “fully subscribes to and defends press freedom and responsibility” and works to oppose hate speech around the world.

The U.N. Correspondents Association in New York expressed alarm over the incident and called on Guterres to find out what happened.