World Press Freedom Day
Every year on 3 May, we celebrate World Press Freedom Day. On this occasion, we celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom and the role of the media as a watchdog that fosters transparency, accountability, and the rule of law. On a more sombre
The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day is “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and the Rule of Law”. We all agree that an independent press is essential to any free society. A free press is not subject to undue government control and regulation, and governments are responsible for protecting journalists from physical harm and intimidation. When journalists are threatened, governments must ensure that the perpetrators of violence face justice.
The media today faces many challenges. New digital platforms have introduced innovative journalistic practices and novel forms of communication that have a much wider reach. These platforms have brought increased competition and financial challenges for traditional media outlets. At the same time, the competition to be the first to break a story means that “fake news” is much easier to disseminate, resulting in sophisticated disinformation campaigns that undermine the integrity of the media. All these challenges make it even more tempting for governments to step in and exert influence over the local media landscape.
Financial pressures on news organizations are increasing significantly, leading to cutbacks in the newsrooms that have a negative impact on news coverage. Journalists are concerned that economic and financial pressures will allow advertisers to exert undue influence on the media and compromise its independence. Any such pressures on the media run counter to freedom of expression. When the press is subject to censorship or self-censors due to intimidation or fear of loss of advertisers, society suffers. To safeguard democratic values, journalists and other members of the media should be able to investigate, research, publish, and disseminate news, information, and opinions freely both online and off line.
In this new, hyper-competitive, and digitalized media environment, journalists must now also contend with active disinformation campaigns, insidiously hiding behind the guise of legitimate journalism. In response, it is tempting for authorities to deal with offensive content and fake news by attempting to forbid or regulate it. We must be wary of restrictive regulations that will set a dangerous precedent and encourage censorship. News organizations must call out fake news and disinformation without legitimizing them. At the same time, the best response to fake news is for journalists to continue to hold themselves to the highest standards, producing quality, well sourced journalism that can stand up to scrutiny and deliver truth to power.
Unfortunately, today’s journalists around the world still face an even more basic challenge than one of funding or disinformation – that of their own personal safety. While it is in the nature of responsible journalism to confront the powerful, the corrupt, and the brutal, too many journalists risk their liberty and even their lives by doing so. Brave men and women languish in prison for no greater crime than seeking to inform their fellow citizens. The tragic list of journalists who were murdered because of what they reported includes Daniel Pearl, Steven Sotloff, James Foley, Luke Somers, those killed in Paris at Charlie Hebdo and, more recently, Jan Kuciak and Malta’s own Daphne Caruana Galizia.
One of the primary contributions of journalists to democracy is to hold politicians and institutions accountable, as well as to monitor and report on the democratic processes that mandate them. We encourage governments to foster societies in which journalists can work freely and without fear. We are all responsible for protecting a free and plural media environment that enables the political will of the public to be expressed, and allows good governance to thrive.
The US Embassy welcomes opportunities to cooperate with local partners on press freedom issues. Recently, we worked with local educational institutions on programs that improve media literacy, editorial independence, fact-checking and journalistic ethics. This summer, a media and journalism lecturer will participate in the 2018 Study of the United States Institute on Journalism and the Media. The programme will examine the rights and responsibilities of the media in a democratic society. It will examine the impact of technology on journalism, including the influence of the Internet, the globalization of the news media, the growth of satellite television and radio networks, and other changes that are transforming the profession.
On World Press Freedom Day, we thank and honour the journalists around the world without whom democracy could not flourish and whose courageous work helps hold authorities to account. These are the men and women who work to ensure that debate on public issues can be uninhibited, robust, and wide open. Only through such honest debate can we make the choices that shape our lives and the world around us.