Proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference, 3rd May is celebrated worldwide as World Press Freedom Day. This declaration has been widely influential as a crucial affirmation of the international community’s commitment to freedom of the press.
Every year UNESCO floats a theme for this day and quite appropriately, the 2022 theme for World Press Freedom Day is Journalism under digital siege. The rapid proliferation of digital technology has given rise to new challenges in the digital era’s impact on freedom of expression and the safety of journalists and on media viability, including impacting special groups, including “netizens” (citizens of the net, actively involved in online communities), bloggers and social forum activists. UNESCO World Press Freedom Day Global Conference 2022 on 2-5 May 2022 in the Republic of Uruguay will focus on the multiple ways in which journalism is endangered by surveillance and digitally-mediated attacks on journalists, and the consequences of all this on public trust in digital communications
Role of Soroptimists
Although Press Freedom does not directly relate to the SDGs that Soroptimists generally focus on, we can certainly connect to SDG 16. Our UN Consultative Status gives us a voice at different high-level forums. This is where we need to start to make our voices heard in matters of press freedom and the rule of law and good governance at all levels.
SDG 16 and Press Freedom
Press Freedom is strongly related to SDG 16 which calls for peaceful and inclusive societies based on respect for human rights, the rule of law and good governance at all levels; in short, promoting peace, justice and strong institutions. Yet Press Freedom has been under siege for decades due to formidable forces triggered by inequity, discrimination, intolerance and exclusion often unleashed by autocratic, corrupt and repressive governments.
May 3 acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. It is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. It is an opportunity to:
- celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom;
- assess the state of press freedom throughout the world;
- defend the media from attacks on their independence;
- and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Women journalists under fire
Although relatively fewer women enter the challenging and often dangerous arena of investigative reporting, there are several cases of women journalists worldwide who have boldly gone into this field and have shown courage and commitment often with great risk to their lives. One has only got to watch the short video, Velvet Revolution by Indian journalist Nupur Basu on YouTube to sense the obstacles and risks women journalists face.
Some martyrs of investigative journalism:
- Daphne Caruana Galizia, Maltese writer, journalist, blogger and anti-corruption activist, was killed in 2017 in a car bomb as she focused on investigating and reporting government corruption, nepotism, patronage and allegations of money laundering.
- Gauri Lankesh, Indian journalist-turned-activist and critic of right-wing Hindu extremism, was shot dead in front of her home in 2017. After her death, there was nationwide outrage with protests in several cities across the country. Despite a government constituted special investigation team, five years on, there have been no convictions, with the trial still on-going.
- Bangladesh Journalist Runi and her journalist husband Shagor were killed in a gruesome double murder in 2012 to silence a critical investigative report they were preparing on the corruption of influential persons in power.
Honouring Journalists who perform without fear or favour
Independent awards have been initiated for journalists who show courage in defending press freedom despite facing attacks, threats, or imprisonment. In addition to recognizing individuals, pro-press freedom organisations focus on local and international media coverage on countries where violations of press freedom are particularly serious. The Nobel Peace Prize for journalism is awarded for courageous upholding of the principles of free reporting and the UNESCO Press Freedom Prize honours a person, organization or institution that makes an outstanding contribution to the defense and/or promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world, especially achieved in the face of danger. To raise further awareness, an anti-award called Press Freedom Predator is distributed every few years by Reporters without Borders – attributed to heads of states or groups who are considered to have a negative effect on press freedom.
SI Dhaka, Bangladesh