Journalists all over world work under difficult situations in order to serve the society; however, the society doesn’t appear to value this all-important role. Therefore, as the whole world marks World Press Freedom Day, ELEOJO IDACHABA chronicles the plights of journalists worldwide.
The year 2021 World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) celebration that started on April 29 2021 ends today May 3rd. This year’s celebration with the theme: ‘Information as a Public Good’ is carefully selected to serve as a call to affirm the importance of appreciating information as a public good and explore what can be done in the production, distribution and reception of content to strengthen journalism all over the world. It is also a time for celebration, solidarity and holding governments all over the world accountable for their stewardship on press freedom.
According to the International Press Institute (IPI), journalists work hard to get vital information to keep their communities informed, often in difficult circumstances, but too often, they come under attacks for no fault of theirs. That is why according to IPI, this year’s celebration is a time to express solidarity with colleagues under attacks and to a large extent remind governments and others who hold power about their commitments to respect journalism and provide free space for journalists to do their work.It said, “This past year has been particularly difficult as governments have sought to restrict journalism and the free flow of information under the guise of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are seeing the latest example in India where the government has stopped journalists from sharing information on Twitter and the government of Uttar Pradesh has threatened to take action against those who tweet about the shortage of oxygen in the face of the pandemic.”As the IPI global network, we’re meeting the moment to defend press freedom as a core pillar of democratic society,” it stated. According to IPI, authoritarian and illiberal-minded regimes are becoming increasingly emboldened in their efforts to stifle independent media while revealing that crackdowns on the press are unfolding openly across the globe.
Reports of attacks across the globe
According to IPI, “Since seizing power in a coup on February 1, Myanmar’s military junta has arrested more than 70 journalists, revoked licences of independent media outlets, and repeatedly blocked internet access.”In Belarus, the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko launched a campaign to criminalise reporting of protests against last year’s fraudulent election. Local watchdogs have recorded over 550 attacks on journalists, including hundreds of detentions since the vote.
“The Chinese government has accelerated an unprecedented effort to eradicate fundamental freedoms, including press freedom, in Hong Kong. Beijing has targeted prominent critical journalists, like Apply Daily publisher, Jimmy Lai, as it transforms the territory into an outpost of its centralised authoritarianism. The coronavirus pandemic has aided the negative trend as governments use the public health crisis to restrict reporting.
“The Chinese authorities have blocked access to information, arrested journalists for their coverage of the virus and passed sweeping ‘fake news’ laws that can be used to silence criticism.
“India, which is battling a recent major wave of infections, has seen 84 violations more than any other country. The country’s increasingly illiberal government, stung by widespread criticism in the media over its response to the pandemic and the large-scale farmers’ protest, has stepped up legal harassment of journalists, notably through its notorious sedition law. Indian media outlets are challenging new rules covering digital media, warning of government censorship. Journalists in Indian-administered Kashmir continue to face an agonising clampdown aimed at controlling news related to the territory.”
Press freedom under assault – IPI
Speaking further, IPI executive director, Barbara Trionfi said, “The rise in open attacks on press freedom and targeting of journalists in dictatorial and illiberal-minded regimes around the world is an ominous sign for the future of democratic freedoms.”Press freedom is under assault everywhere we look with tactics and methods for doing so being shared and copied by governments. Anti-democratic regimes increasingly feel that they can silence the media with impunity. This has a domino effect as it encourages other states to follow suit.
“The coronavirus pandemic and accompanying states of emergency have provided in some cases a cover for governments to usher in new systems and norms that invite censorship and self-censorship. There is a clear risk that many of these norms would outlast the virus and become permanent fixtures. Now is the time to ensure that any rights restrictions are strictly necessary, proportionate and time-limited.”According to IPI chief, “The pandemic has also reminded us of how important independent journalism is precisely in moments of crisis. We need urgent, collective response by the international community – both states and civil society to robustly defend press freedom as a pillar of free and democratic societies, and to stop the domino effect knocking down the public’s right to independent news and information,” she noted.
More across the globe
Elsewhere in Asia, IPI noted that the pressure on media freedom has grown in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte with new charges brought against prominent journalist and IPI board member, Maria Ressa and the forced closure of critical broadcasting station ABS-CBN.
In Africa, IPI says the re-election in January of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in office for nearly 35 years was marred by accusations of fraud and more than 100 attacks on journalists in the run-up to the vote. It said hours before the vote, Ugandan authorities brazenly cut off access to the entire internet to stifle public access to information. “While Egypt finally released Al Jazeera correspondent Mahmoud Hussein in February, dozens more reporters remain behind bars. Legal proceedings against them are a mockery of due process. Africa ranks second in terms of arrests and charges against journalists and media outlets. “Zimbabwe reported the greatest number of arrests in the region, including that of prominent investigative journalist, Hopewell Chin’ono. He was first arrested in July last year for exposing COVID-related procurement fraud within the country’s health ministry.
Europe, it noted is not immune from the authoritarian turn even as Hungary, a European Union member state, continued its dismantling of media freedom by kicking the country’s last independent radio broadcaster, Klubrádió, off the air. Also, Turkey remains a leading jailer of journalists and strong online platforms into complying with a new law that facilitates digital censorship. An alarming number of physical and verbal attacks on journalists were recorded in Europe.
A total of 112 cases of attacks have been registered, of which more than 80 percent were by members of the public. Journalists were targeted while covering public demonstrations against lockdowns and other pandemic-related measures. Numerous states imposed restrictions on access to information, preventing journalists from speaking to health officials or medical workers, or blocking independent media from attending press conferences.
In Latin America, the regime of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua continues its war on the free press, shutting down access to information even as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads. Restrictions on access to information were particularly evident in Latin America, where Venezuela and Honduras topped IPI’s Press Freedom Tracker in terms of numbers of violations.
“New ‘fake news’ laws were enacted in at least 18 jurisdictions. Sold as efforts to combat disinformation about the health crisis, these laws provide governments with new tools to control the flow of news and information. “Journalists in that country face prosecution, surveillance, harassment and threats. The pandemic has dealt a debilitating blow on press freedom across the globe.”
So far, report indicated that IPI’s COVID-19 Press Freedom Tracker has recorded 635 press freedom violations around the world. “Overall, over 200 violations linked to the pandemic were reported in the Asia-Pacific region of which about half were from four South Asian countries of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal. “Seventy-one journalists faced arrests and charges for their coverage of the pandemic and its consequences in those countries while 32 cases of physical attacks and verbal threats were reported.”
Report has it too that recently, the Malaysian government took advantage of emergency powers to bypass parliament and introduce a regressive new regulation providing up to three years in prison for ‘fake news’ on the pandemic or the state of emergency itself.
Also in the far-east
Russia introduced legislation that imposed a fine of up to €21,000 and a five-year prison term for spreading what it called ‘false information’. Report has it that almost 50 journalists were killed in the past year with 49 killed over the last 12 months, according to IPI’s Death Watch. Of those, as many as 43 were murdered in retaliation for their work. Other isolated cases
In Afghanistan, three journalists were killed covering armed conflicts and one died while reporting on civil unrest. Two other journalists were killed while on assignment. With nine cases, Afghanistan has the greatest number of targeted killings over the past year, including three women working for Enikass TV who were shot dead on March 2 as they were on their way home.
In Mexico, six journalists were killed in targeted attacks, mostly for their reports on drug cartels and organised crime.
“Impunity remains the norm for killings of journalists around the world. While triggermen are occasionally sentenced for their roles, the masterminds of journalist murders almost never face justice.”
In February, US intelligence released a report concluding that Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman had approved the heinous assassination of Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Regrettably, IPI says Salman has not faced any meaningful consequences for the murder, underscoring the lack of accountability for even the most brazen attacks on the press.