World Press Freedom Day: “Now it is more important than ever to not keep quiet!”

World Press Freedom Day: “Now it is more important than ever to not keep quiet!”
The role the media plays in our daily lives is massive. It can shape public opinion and the way a society addresses certain things.

Considering this, it’s of paramount importance that reporting is done fairly and with integrity.

If only!

Mainstream media, especially nowadays, will often sensationalise stories which consequently creates fear – something we certainly do not need in our current political climate.

World Press Freedom Day is a celebration of, well, press freedom. It encourages and develops initiatives in favour of press freedom as well as serving as a reminder of all the countries where publications are censored, fined and shut down; and the journalists who are attacked, imprisoned and sometimes even murdered.

The day is marked by the celebration of a particular individual with the handing out of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize with each years winner being considered to have made an outstanding contribution to the defence and promotion of press freedom. 

The prize is named in honour of Guillermo Cano, a Columbian journalist who in the 80s was assassinated in front of the offices of his newspaper because, through his writing, he’d upset Columbia’s powerful drug lords.

This year, the prize is to be bestowed upon Dawit Isaak, a dual citizen of Eritrea and Sweden, and co-founder of the first independent newspaper in Eritrea. 

He was arrested in Eritrea in 2001, following the increase in security measures after 9/11; he and a number of other high ranking individuals had written an open letter to the government calling for democratic reforms and the preservation of human rights. 

Apparently those actions were worthy of arrest so he and a number of others were jailed without trial, but their release has been campaigned for ever since.

It is cases like these that highlight why World Press Freedom Day is so important.

Journalists will often speak out, risking their lives, hoping to inform and protect society, just as Dawit did. Doing so, however, doesn’t always have good consequences.

But there are also more sides to press freedom.

Not only does it protect the rights newspapers, magazines and other publications, but it also protects the rights of the people in a society. 

They have a right to have access to information and of course in countries where freedom of press doesn’t exist, or is limited, access to information becomes limited.

This then leads to an oppressed, perhaps even corrupt society, and while we might like to think such societies are a thing of the past, they’re not. In fact, such societies seem to be on the rise in some parts of the world…Take the US, for example, Donald Trump has declared the media as the enemy, because lot of the reporting isn’t in his favour and doesn’t make him look particularly good. He declares every single negative story as fake news… clearly a fair assessment without bias…

Fair reporting might not always work in someones favour but that doesn’t mean it’s dishonest.

Press freedom is central to a democracy – it allows the public to have a democratic voice, and this now is more important than ever! As proven by the worlds happenings.

Luckily, we live in a country where press freedom is highly valued – not only does Sweden boast the oldest press freedom law in the world – it celebrated its 250th anniversary last year, but in the World Press Freedom Index 2017, Sweden came second!

A large part of this is due to the increase in cooperation between the police and media. With the ever increasing power of the internet today, and the problem of internet trolls and online threats that come with it, this cooperation between the police and media is essential.

To explain, journalists who fall victim to any such threats, are supported and defended by legal authorities, this then sends the message that attacks on journalists are attacks on society as a whole, because it takes away the right of the people.

SI News service spoke to Jeanette Gustafsdotter, CEO of TU – Sweden's media houses' trade association.

“When we write about certain issues, like the right wing parties or neo-Nazis, we see an increase in threats and harassment – especially against women.”

“To combat this we have direct contact with the police – it's the reason we are now second in the World Press Freedom Index.”

“We have created a dialogue between ourselves, the police and the governement,” explains Jeanette, “our hard work has had a very good result – now the police take the arrests of and attacks on journalists very seriously.”

The Swedish constitution ensures that all citizens have a right to freely seek information – one of the four fundamental laws that the Swedish constitution is governed by is indeed the Swedish Free Press Act. While the law ensures press freedom, offensive works – either to individuals, groups or society as a whole, are considered violations of the law, i.e. the law ensures press freedom but also protects society.

“It's important to have press freedom written in law – it protects things such as freedom of speech too. The law is important for all those who work in media; it protects journalists and media houses – and now it is more important than ever to not keep quiet!”

Being the first country to write press freedom into the constitution shows just how forward thinking Sweden really is. Swedes are offered insights into government activities through the transparency the law creates, and this therefore creates trust between the citizens and government, which, of course, leads to a happier nation.

This year’s UNESCO event will take place in Jakarta, though UNESCO organise events all over the world. This year also marks the 20th anniversary since the creation of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize; as part of this celebration a video will be launched on 3 May and the series ’20 quotes for Press Freedom’ will publish a quote a day on Facebook and Twitter.

It’s important to support, celebrate and remember journalists, especially those who risk their lives, because they play such an important role in our society.

“The easiest way to support journalists is to pay for what you read. This is so media companies can still survive and can continue investigative journalism,” says Jeanette, 'it's also important to debate, discuss and keep up a dialogue about press freedom.”

TU are participating in a debate on the freedom of press as part of their campaign to increase public awareness press ethics, responsible publishing and credible media.

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“Think about what you read, where you read it, and why you read it.”

As 2014’s UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize winner Ahmet Șik said, “To silence a journalist is equivalent to silencing the people as a whole.”