International

World Press Freedom Day: 'Speak With One Voice', Says UN Chief Gueterres; Urges Nations To Stop Targeting Media

On the eve of World Press Freedom Day , the United Nations chief Antonio Gueterres warned that the media is under attack in every corner of the world and urged all nations to stop the targeting of truth and those who report it. 

UN Chief Antonio Gueterres
info_icon

As May 3 marks World Press Freedom Day, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday urged the international community to “speak with one voice” and call for stopping the detention and imprisonment of journalists for doing their jobs, as he sounded an alarm that freedom of the press is under attack in every corner of the world.

The day is observed as an initiative to emphasize on the importance of freedom and independence in media. It also promotes the principles of freedom of expression.

This year, we mark the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day.

India is presently at the 150th position on the Press Freedom Index 2022 by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a whopping 17-point fall from its ranking in 2016.

History of World Press Freedom Day

The concept of observing World Press Freedom Day was the brainchild of African journalists back in 1991 during a UNESCO seminar in Namibia.

The day came into existense as they believed that this could be an instriumental tool to spread awareness on the pivotal role played by the press in promoting democracy and highlight the many perils that journalists face while carrying out their work.

The first World Press Freedom Day was celebrated on May 3, 1993, and since then, it has become an annual event that is observed in many countries around the world.

What did UN Chief Gueterres say?

While addressing the international community, Antonio Guterres underscored that “all our freedom” depends on press freedom. 

“Freedom of the press is the foundation of democracy and justice,” he said in his video message ahead of World Press Freedom Day 2023.

World Press Freedom Day is observed annually on May 3.

“On this and every World Press Freedom Day, the world must speak with one voice - Stop the threats and attacks. Stop detaining and imprisoning journalists for doing their jobs. Stop the lies and disinformation. Stop targeting truth and truth-tellers,” Guterres said in the message telecast in the UN General Assembly Hall here at a special event organised by UNESCO.

The United Nations chief warned on the eve of World Press Freedom Day that the media is under attack in every corner of the world and urged all nations to stop the targeting of truth and those who report it. 

“Truth is threatened by disinformation and hate speech, seeking to blur the lines between fact and fiction, between science and conspiracy," he said.

He noted that at least 67 media workers were killed in 2022, an “unbelievable” 50 per cent increase over the previous years and nearly three-quarters of women journalists have experienced violence online and one in four have been threatened physically.

“Journalists and media workers are directly targeted on and offline as they carry out their vital work. They are routinely harassed, intimidated, detained and imprisoned,” he said.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the 50 per cent increase in the killing of media workers in 2022 "unbelievable," stressing that freedom of the press "is the foundation of democracy and justice" and it is under threat.

At least 67 media workers were killed in 2022. In addition, digital platforms and social media have made it easier for extremists to push false narratives and harass journalists. 

"Truth is threatened by disinformation and hate speech seeking to blur the lines between fact and fiction, between science and conspiracy," Guterres said.

Guterres said the collapse of the media industry, which has led to closures of local news outlets and consolidation of media "into the hands of the few" is threatening freedom of expression. 

So are threatening new laws passed by governments worldwide, such as Russia's 2022 law that anyone publishing information about its military that Moscow deems to be false could face up to 15 years in prison. 

Detenton of journalists

Russia detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in late March under accusations of spying, which the Journal denies. The Biden administration has said Gershkovish is being wrongfully detained and has been working to secure his release. 

Guterres strongly criticised the targeting of media workers both on and offline, saying they are routinely harassed, intimidated and detained. He added that nearly three-quarters of women journalists have experienced violence online and one-quarter have been threatened physically.

Guterres made the remarks in a video message for the U.N. commemoration of the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, which the U.N. General Assembly first proclaimed in December 1993 and authorised to be held every May 3.

The secretary-general said the world must unite to stop threats, attacks and imprisonment of journalists for doing their jobs, and stop the lies and disinformation.

Advertisement

"As journalists stand up for truth, the world stands up with them," he said.

UNESCO's stand on press freedom

 Audrey Azoulay, director-general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which organised the commemoration, said the advent of the digital era has changed the entire information landscape.

While digital platforms have provided new ways for expression and information, she said, "they are also proving fertile ground for those who sow disinformation, hate speech and conspiracy theories."

"We find ourselves at a new crossroads," Azoulay said. "Our current path is leading us away from informed public debate … towards even more polarisation," she warned. "The other path is one we must imagine together, to ensure information can remain a public good, accessible to all."

Advertisement

Azoulay said UNESCO in 2021 launched a model curriculum for teachers on media and information literacy "to develop critical mindsets to navigate these new flows."

Given that the business models of digital platforms are based on the number of clicks, she said, they "all too often favour sensationalism over truth."

Azoulay said that's why UNESCO in February organised a global conference to address this issue with a goal of ensuring "that technology helps our shared values and promotes human rights rather than harming them." It was attended by over 4,000 interested parties. This was "a decisive step," she said, toward publication later this year by UNESCO of a set of guidelines on the moderation and selection of online content – just as it did for broadcasting nearly 20 years ago, she said.

Advertisement

Guilherme Canela De Souza Godoi, who heads UNESCO's section on Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists, told a news conference that Tuesday's commemoration is a kickoff for more than 60 events in 60 countries and over 40 events in New York City to highlight World Press Freedom Day's 30th anniversary and the unacceptable decline in media freedom.

He cited UNESCO statistics released last year that 85 per cent of the world's population experienced the downsizing of their freedom in the last five years.

A recent UNESCO survey found that journalists covering protests in 65 countries in all regions have been attacked, Canela said, while other recent data shows that judicial systems increasingly harass journalists in all regions, "with 160 countries still keeping freedom of expression under criminal codes" that can lead to journalists' imprisonment.

Advertisement

The presidents of the U.N. General Assembly, Economic and Social Council, UNESCO General Conference and Human Rights Council signed a joint statement urging "a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference" — and to promote and safeguard the rights to freedom of opinion and expression.

(With AP inputs)

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement