By : Clélia Jeandin / GICJ
Between April 29 and May 3, the World Press Freedom day 2021 Global Conference will take place in Windhoek, Namibia. The Global Conference is organized annually since 1993, and it is focused on celebrating the fundamental principles of press freedom, assessing the state of press freedom throughout the world, defending the media from attacks on their independence, as well as paying tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
This year’s Global Conference especially marks the 30th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration. Signed on May 3, 1991, it is a statement of press freedom principles established by African newspaper journalists. Soon after, a recommendation was adopted during the 26th session of UNESCO’s General Conference : May 3 was subsequently claimed as the World Press Freedom Day, and the Windhoek Declaration was followed by a series of similar declarations established by journalists in developing countries (e.g. the Sana’a Declaration for the Middle East, and the Santiago Declaration for Latin America and the Caribean).
Participants at the UNESCO seminar “Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Media” held in Windhoek, Namibia in 1991. Photo credit: The Namibian (source : UNESCO)
Press freedom is a vital element of contemporary states’ functioning. It guarantees the imparting of transparent, complete information to societies and reinforces governments and media structures’ legitimacy. Moreover, the increasingly rapid development of communication technologies shows that access to information has become a central part of our lives. Press
freedom should not be a luxury; yet, it is continuously threatened throughout the world. It is estimated that every five days, a journalist is killed for bringing information to the public (source). While international laws have been revised in order to improve journalists’ safety, especially in conflict zones, journalists’ killers are rarely ever brought to justice (source), and this only legitimizes attempts at blocking information and hindering press freedom worldwide.
The recent example of Hong Kong’s situation shows that press freedom remains threatened in a lot of territories today, including in developed, rich countries. For decades, Hong Kong was considered as a territory independent from the political and judicial system of the People Republic of China (PRC). Some of the city’s media outlets were praised for their independence and criticism of the PRC’s attempts at influencing local politics. In June 2020, a national security law was adopted in Hong Kong, allowing the PRC to intervene within the city in order to punish what it considers as “crimes against the state” (source). As a result, throughout the past year, violence against journalists and the persecution of pro-democracy media outlets severely increased in the city. Jimmy Lai, founder of one of the city’s most popular newspaper, Apple Daily, and RSF (Reporters without borders) prize laureate, was sentenced to a year of imprisonment just weeks ago by the Hong Kong authorities (source). The city’s ranking in the world press freedom index overall fell seven spots in 2020.
This year, the theme of the World Press Freedom Day is “Information as a Public Good”. This theme highlights the necessity to include every individual in the processes of producing information, distributing information as well as advancing transparency in order to strengthen journalism and press freedom. The rising importance of digital content in the current media environment will be specifically highlighted this year; with the three key topics of the conference being (source) :
- Steps to ensure the economic viability of news media. The current sanitary crisis has exacerbated the economic difficulties faced by some media outlets who were already suffering from the competition of Internet companies. Media companies’ economic weaknesses make them more likely to be taken over by governments or advertisers, subsequently threatening their independence.
- Mechanisms for ensuring transparency of Internet companies. Social media platforms and search companies notoriously make significant profit out of content that is disinformed. This content ultimately threatens the exposure and survival of certain media outlets while encouraging the spread of false or inaccurate information.
- Enhanced Media and Information Literacy (MIL) capacities. This topic underscores an audience-related aspect of press freedom. As flows of information are increased by the easy access to digital content, it becomes essential for citizens to develop skills that will allow them to make informed decisions, and appreciate measures that improve journalists’ safety and media outlets’ independence.
As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration, we must acknowledge the challenges that still prevent freedom of press worldwide. In zones of political instability and conflict, journalists still risk their lives when they spread information : in 2020, 49 journalists are estimated to have been killed worldwide (source). Moreover, media outlets information duty is threatened by the rising influence of internet companies and flows of information that are not verified.
GICJ considers press freedom as a fundamental value, we are particularly concerned by the risks still faced by journalists and independent media outlets worldwide. ”Information as a Public Good” reminds us that information is a right that every individual should enjoy ; we hope that the 2021 Global Conference will allow to put forward clear and sustainable solutions that will safeguard journalists safety and citizens freedom of information.
Keywords: WorldPressFreedomDay2021 PressFreedom 2021GlobalConference WindhoekDeclaration Journalists Media Independence HumanRights GICJ Geneva4Justice Geneva_International_Centre_for_Justice