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 Malta Independent on Sunday - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS - G. Kathleen Hill

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.

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