World Press Freedom Day
The Covid 19 pandemic gives a new twist and perhaps a new urgency to World Press Freedom Day. For 27 years the UN day of action has been a way of reminding the world about the importance of press freedom and the pressures on independent journalism around the world. For most of those years the focus has been on impunity (it’s still true that those who kill journalists mostly stay free) and on physical safety in global conflicts.
But the extraordinary period we are currently living through raises other, deeper themes. Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) in this year’s World Press Freedom Index estimate that the next decade will be pivotal for press freedom because of five converging crises: growing aggression of authoritarian regimes, a technology and privacy crisis, a democratic crisis due to polarisation and repressive policies, a crisis of trust and an economic crisis. The current pandemic is fuelling all of these. Authoritarian regimes are using the cover of the pandemic to assert more power, the need to trace and track the virus is eroding democratic guarantees around technology and privacy, polarisation and populism are being fuelled by fear, trust in the media continues to fall and be deliberately undermined by those avoiding scrutiny and we may be headed for the deepest global recession for a century – which will impact the resources of news organisations everywhere.
We see countries censoring information about the pandemic, governments hyper-sensitive to criticism of their response and editorial independence under pressure and being compromised around the world with journalists arrested for speaking out.
So this year, under these locked-down circumstances, it is more important than ever that those of us who recognise the importance of a free and open media redouble our efforts to support and defend free speech and reporting. And there are positive developments for us to hold onto. Unesco has published a new report on media independence which provides recommendations for all stakeholder groups. An international fund for public interest media is being established by the Luminate group to bolster free media in developing countries. The pandemic has reminded the public of the importance of information they can trust and rely upon. News organisations are collaborating more frequently to combat disinformation – about coronavirus and other issues. It is up to all of us to step up and support the work of serious high quality news and information and independent journalism – in whatever ways we can. We must all highlight great journalism and articulate its importance whenever we can.
The Frontline Club was formed to support independent journalism and particularly the work of freelances. Although the club building is currently closed under the UK virus restrictions the mission continues with virtual events and discussions, keeping the network alive until we are able to resume our normal events and hospitality. Our commitment to press freedom is undiminished even if our doors – for now – must be closed. We all hope you remain safe and well, and will join us however you can in supporting great journalism, the extraordinary work of our colleagues around the world, and in reminding the public and governments that free speech and a free media is also essential to a healthy society.
Chair, Frontline Club Charitable Trust
Prof of Journalism, Cardiff University