To mark World Press Freedom Day 2009, Index on Censorship asked a panel of experts what needs to be done to protect the press in the year ahead
It might be fanciful, but what better way to celebrate World Press Freedom Day than for governments to acknowledge the fundamental and central role journalism plays in democracy and in creating a democractic culture. Would it not be good if on this day governments said they would desist from announcing legislation that slowly chips away at press freedom?
In Ireland we are about to have a blasphemy law and privacy legislation introduced, unless, in the unlikely event, there is a successful campaign against it. We have seen our freedom of information legislation made less effective and editors have been harrassed in order to have sources revealed. The press has waited 18 years for libel reform, since a Law Reform Commission recommended changes in 1991. Still Ireland is about fourth in the world ranking of countries with a free press. What does that say about the rest of the world?
With such an acknowdegment from governments must come actions and the creation of an environment that allows good journalism to flourish. Ownership of the press must be addressed. Governments must legislate to ensure diversity of ownership and not be afraid to challenge those coporations that would monopolise and cheapen journalism for profit. The media that supports journalism is not like other enterprises; it must be supported and encouraged to flourish because without diversity, debates and conversations in society do not take place. Cheap journalism relying on public relations, publicists, press officers and a narrow range of sources is nothing but propaganda that serves a ruling elite and is inherently anti-democratic.
Michael Foley is senior lecturer in journalism at the Dublin Institute of Techology School of Media
No one change in the law would bring more press freedom, because governments everywhere have shown their determination to take more powers at the expense of the values they pay lip service to in public. They have used the threat of terrorism to enact a host of laws restricting press freedom. The killing of Anna Politkovskaya, Hrant Dink and Lasantha Wickrematunge shows how easily journalists can be destroyed with impunity, and the press cowed into self-censorship or submission. Press freedom has become an endangered species. As governments have seized more formal powers in the name of state security, and clandestine powers of surveillance and unseen pressures, hundreds of media freedom groups have grown up to defend the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But their voices are divided and too often ignored. Leading media around the world, and influential pressure groups including Index on Censorship, must take action themselves, using the weapons of the press — arguments, proof, publicity and every form of pressure, in new and stronger ways. The crisis of survival for press freedom calls for a new worldwide alliance of free media organisations and groups that monitor and contest the pandemic of press freedom violations. The world movement for freedom of the press should learn from Charter 77 and Helsinki Watch, which helped bring freedom of expression to populations trapped in the monopoly of state propaganda. Press Freedom needs its own CND, its Live Aid, its Greenpeace. It needs to bring down hypocrisy using truth as its weapon.
William Horsley is editor of the Association of European Journalists
Media Freedom Survey
Natalia A Koliada
It is scary that in the year 2009 there are still ‘black zones’ where press freedom does not exist. It is necessary to get rid off of thoze zones. Only freedom of the media can guarantee open dialogue and public discussion. This is vitally important in this time of potentially long-running crises. It is important to keep in mind that only with a help of free press it is possible to prevent the spread of dictatorial regimes like those in Belarus, Burma, Cuba and Zimbabwe to the rest of the world. A free press is the bodyguard of real democratic and moral values, which are too easily dismissed in the world today.
Natalia A Koliada General Director and Co-Founder of the
Belarus Free Theatre
The one single thing that would improve press freedom internationally would be if all governments, in democratic and non-democratic countries alike, would honour their obligations under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which, let’s just remind ourselves, states that: ‘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.’
European countries are equally obliged to honour the more or less identical Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which Britain incorporated into domestic law in the Human Rights Act 1998. And yet, wherever one looks, these obligations appear to be honoured more in the breach than the observance, and in a largely rhetorical and token fashion. It has recently been said that freedom of expression faces a ‘counter reformation’ across the world, and the friends of free expression need to do our utmost to expose all the different ways in which this malign trend is working and to combat them with all their might.
Julian Petley is professor of Screen Media and Journalism in the School of Arts at Brunel University
Find out more about World Press Freedom Day at www.worldpressfreedomday.org/