As international organisations and media prepare to celebrate the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) says press freedom has taken another step backward and freedom of expression is not the driver for other human rights that it should be.
On 3 May 1993, the UN General Assembly proclaimed an international day for press freedom. This day is meant to remind world governments that they need to respect their commitment to press freedom. This year, UNESCO is focussing its activities on ‘Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights’.
However, the IFJ deplores the fact that freedom of expression is far from acting as a driver for other human rights and that press freedom is clearly taking a step backward.
“From Peru to Iran, from Sudan to Afghanistan, governments are taking drastic measures to impede freedom of expression and prevent the public’s right to know, including internet restrictions, beating, jailing and intimidating journalists, controlling media content and introducing drastic media laws and other laws to curb the free flow of information. Since the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration in 1991, very little has been undertaken to create concrete conditions at the international level to guarantee freedom and security for journalists,” said IFJ President Dominique Pradalie.
The figures speak for themselves. According to the IFJ’s latest list of media professionals killed in the course of duty, 68 media staff were killed in 2022. Very few of these cases have been investigated because impunity for killing media workers has been the rule over the years.
The IFJ also points to ongoing media crackdowns, which have led to large numbers of journalists being jailed, with at least 375 journalists and media workers behind bars in 2022. China has emerged as the world’s biggest jailer of journalists.
Ongoing wars and civil unrest in countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Peru, Sudan, Ukraine, and Yemen have also seen journalists being deliberately targeted and killed. Thirteen journalists have been killed since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022. And thousands of Afghan journalists and their families have had to leave Afghanistan for fear of being killed.
Digital surveillance and the widespread use of spying software have been used on hundreds of journalists in order to kill stories, putting many journalists at risk of seeing their sources and whereabouts, and other personal data being publicly disclosed.
Repressive laws and Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPPs) have also been widely used to curb free speech and to force journalists to censor themselves all over the world.
The fragile media economy, the decline in local news reporting and poor trade union representation have led to drastic cuts in newsrooms, with massive lay-offs and increased discrimination against the most vulnerable categories of journalists.
The IFJ deplores the fact that, despite the goodwill expressed in the two UN resolutions (1738 and 2222) on the protection of journalists in conflict zones, no real commitment has been made to eradicate violence against journalists, to make them safer, and to make any attacks against them illegal.
The IFJ calls for the urgent adoption of a binding international instrument that will strengthen press freedom by forcing governments to investigate and respond to attacks against the media.