Press freedom is facing challenges in various parts of the world, with harassment, imprisonment, and killings of journalists on the rise, according to warnings issued by United Nations (UN) officials and media organisations. The concerns were raised ahead of World Press Freedom Day, which aims to uphold the importance of a free press in sustaining democracy and human rights.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, speaking at a conference held at UN headquarters, highlighted the critical nature of press freedom as the “foundation of democracy and justice,” asserting that it is under threat worldwide. He refrained from blaming specific countries, but other speakers cited individual cases, such as Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter detained in Russia on espionage charges that have been widely denounced.
Journalists from countries like Iran, where reporting can result in imprisonment, torture, and death, detailed the growing dangers of their profession. Reporters Without Borders revealed that 55 journalists and four media workers were killed in the line of duty in 2022.
Guterres also took note of the detrimental effects of disinformation and hate speech circulating in today’s media climate, stating that journalists are increasingly faced with harassment, intimidation, and arrests. His sentiments were echoed by Audrey Azoulay, head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), who asserted that the digital age is reshaping the entire information landscape, making free and independent journalism more crucial than ever.
Azoulay condemned the harassment and intimidation of journalists and emphasised the need for informed public debates to avoid further polarization. New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger highlighted additional threats to journalism, including the barrage of misinformation, propaganda, and clickbait permeating the internet that contribute to the decline in societal trust. He warned that an eroding free press often leads to the deterioration of democratic values.
Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard also spoke about the increasing prevalence of censorship by governments to control societies’ access to knowledge. Meanwhile, UNESCO awarded the 2023 World Press Freedom Prize to three Iranian women—journalists Elaheh Mohammadi and Niloufar Hamedi and human rights activist Narges Mohammadi—for their role in exposing the in-custody death of Mahsa Amini in September, reports Bangkok Post.
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