Today, 3 May, marks World Press Freedom Day; when around the world events will take place promoting of freedom of the press.
Since 1992, a total of 1,340 journalists have been killed as a direct consequence of their work, including the recent death of Northern Irish journalist Lyra McKee. A total of 92 per cent of journalists killed between the years 2012 and 2016 were local reporters.
The relationship between the press and democracy will be the main theme of World Press Freedom Day 2019, jointly organized by UNESCO, the Ethiopian government and the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. How can journalism rise above emotional content and disinformation during an election? What should be done to counter speeches demeaning journalists? To what extent should electoral regulations be applied to the internet? World Press Freedom Day 2019, whose official theme is Media for Democracy, Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation, encourages reflection on these current issues.
World Press Freedom Day was first implemented by the UN General Assembly in 1993, following the recommendation of the 26th session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991. It celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom, assesses the state of press freedom throughout the world, defends the media from attacks on their independence; and pays tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Just nine per cent of the world’s population live in countries with a good press freedom rating, according to Reporters Without Borders. In light of the approaching EU elections and the substantial increase in the spread of “fake news”, the EU has launched a campaign against disinformation. In a statement issued on behalf of the EU, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said: “On World Press Freedom Day we celebrate the essential role of a free press not only as a conveyor of reliable and accurate news, but as a pillar of democracy. The quality of democratic processes is linked to the state of freedom of expression as well as media freedom and pluralism. There is no democracy without a truly free press.
“While bearing the great responsibility to guarantee checked and correct news to the public, free, diverse and independent media are at the very same basis of a pluralistic and open society. Investigative journalism fulfills a necessary watchdog role that assists the public in holding governments and institutions, at all level, accountable for their actions and obligations. However, we see more and more attempts to curb the space for free media, also by systematically undermining their credibility, and too many journalists have lost their lives or have put their lives at risk for having exposed inconvenient truths.
“This year’s 26th worldwide commemoration addresses the current challenges faced by the media in elections in times of disinformation, as well as the media’s potential to support democracy, peace and reconciliation. Disinformation has a high potential to negatively influence democratic processes and public debates all over the world, and the European Union makes no exception.
“This is why we have launched the EU Action Plan against Disinformation, that steps up the European response to strengthen the resilience of our societies against disinformation. The Plan focuses on improving detection of disinformation, coordinating and joining up actions by the Union and Member States, mobilising the private sector to deliver on its commitments, raising public awareness and empowering citizens. Healthy democracy relies on open, free and fair public debate and it is our duty to protect this space and not allow anybody to spread disinformation that fuels hatred, division, and mistrust in democracy.
“The EU is promoting free and fair media not only at home but also globally in our relations with third countries, including by providing funding for targeted projects that enhance quality journalism, press freedom and access to public information. With free journalism under increasing pressure, the EU reaffirms its determination to defend press and media freedom within its borders and worldwide.”
The Council of Europe´s Information Society Department published a report on 2 May to coincide with World Press Freedom Day 2019, examining the major threats to freedom of expression in Europe in 2018 and the actions which governments should carry out to counter them as a matter of priority. The report states: “At least two assassinations of journalists in Europe for reasons related to their work highlighted the price that media professionals continued to pay for investigating corruption and organised crime in 2018.”
The report goes on to highlight the impact of laws on press freedom, saying: “An enabling legal and regulatory environment is essential for guaranteeing freedom of expression and, in particular, media freedom. Laws on defamation, hate speech and other areas, that restrict free speech rights, must be drafted as narrow exceptions to the cardinal principle of the free flow of information and ideas. In addition, any laws providing for sanctions against speech, especially those of a criminal nature, must be applied by national authorities with due regard for the principles of necessity and proportionality. The extensive jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights serves as important guidance for national courts and regulators.”