World Press Freedom Day – 30 Years later
By Mike Burnard – Analytical Strategist at dia-LOGOS
“Freedom of information is the freedom that allows you to verify the existence of all the other freedoms.” – Win Tin, Burmese journalist
The United Nations General Assembly designates a number of “International Days” to mark important aspects of human life and history. 3 May is allocated as World Press Freedom Day and will celebrate thirty years of existence in 2021.
World Press Freedom Day has its origins in a UNESCO conference in Windhoek, Namibia, in 1991. The event ended on 3 May with the adoption of the landmark Windhoek Declaration for the Development of a Free, Independent and Pluralistic Press. After 30 years, the historic connection made between the freedom to seek, impart and receive information and the public good remains as relevant as it was at the time of its signing.
Sadly, at the turn of the 21st century, nearly half of the world’s population still lacks access to free information. Millions are deprived of knowledge that is essential for managing their lives and are prevented from living in pluralist political systems in which factual truth serves as the basis for individual and collective choices.
The 2021 World Press Freedom Index
Reporters Without Borders (www.rsf.org/en), the world’s biggest NGO specializing in the defense of media freedom, recently released the following statistics regarding global freedom of the press. The report shows that journalism is completely or partially blocked in 73% of the 180 countries ranked by the organisation.
The Index data reflect a dramatic deterioration in freedom of press and an increase in obstacles to news coverage. The coronavirus pandemic has been used as grounds to block journalists’ access to information sources and reporting in the field. The data shows that journalists are finding it increasingly hard to investigate and report sensitive stories, especially in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire bemoaned the fact that information is too often blocked by political, economic, technological and, sometimes, even cultural factors. For example,
- President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil (down 4 at 111th) and President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela (down 1 at 148th) promoted medically unproven Covid-19 remedies. Their false claims were debunked by investigative journalists at media outlets such as Brazil’s Agência Pública and in-depth reporting by Venezuela’s few remaining independent publications.
- In Iran (down 1 at 174th), the authorities tightened their control over news coverage and stepped up trials of journalists in order to weaken the media’s ability to scrutinise the country’s Covid-19 death toll.
- In Egypt (166th), President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s government simply banned the publication of any pandemic statistics that didn’t come from the Ministry of Health.
- In Zimbabwe (down 4 at 130th), the investigative reporter Hopewell Chin’ono was arrested shortly after helping to expose the overbilling practices of a medical equipment supply company.
Biggest movements in the Index
- Norway is ranked first in the Index for the fifth year running
- Finland maintained its position in second place
- Sweden (up 1 at 3rd) recovered its third place ranking, which it had yielded to Denmark (down 1 at 4th) last year.
This year, only 12 of the Index’s 180 countries (7%) can claim to offer a favourable environment for journalism, as opposed to 13 countries (8%) last year.
The country to have been stripped of its “good” classification is Germany (down 2 at 13th). Dozens of its journalists were attacked by supporters of extremist and conspiracy theory believers during protests against pandemic restrictions. The press freedom situation in Germany is nonetheless still classified as “fairly good,” as is the case in the United States (down 1 at 44th), despite the fact that Donald Trump’s final year in the White House was marked by a record number of assaults against journalists (around 400) and arrests of members of the media (130), according to the US Press Freedom Tracker, of which RSF is a partner.
As a result of falling four places, Brazil joined the countries where the press freedom situation is classified as “bad”. The vilification and orchestrated public humiliation of journalists have become trademarks of President Bolsonaro, along with his family and closest allies. Brazil shares the “bad” classification with India (142nd), Mexico (143rd) and Russia (down 1 at 150th), which deployed its repressive apparatus to limit media coverage of protests in support of Kremlin opponent, Alexei Navalny.
China (177th), which continues to take Internet censorship, surveillance and propaganda to unprecedented levels, is still firmly anchored among the Index’s worst countries
Right below China is the same trio of totalitarian countries that have historically occupied the bottom three places. Two are Asian: Turkmenistan (up 1 at 178th) and North Korea (up 1 at 179th). The third is African: Eritrea (down 2 at 180th). These countries maintain absolute control over all news and information, enabling the first two to claim they had no Covid-19 cases and the third to maintain complete silence about the fate of 11 journalists who were arrested 20 years ago, some of whom have allegedly been held in metal containers in the middle of a desert.
The country that fell the furthest in 2021 was Malaysia (down 18 at 119th), where the problems include a recent “anti-fake news” decree allowing the government to impose its own version of the truth. Big descents were also registered by Comoros (down 9 at 84th) and El Salvador (down 8 at 82nd), where journalists have struggled to obtain state-held information about the government’s handling of the pandemic.
Most of the 2021 Index’s biggest gains are in Africa. Burundi (up 13 at 147th), Sierra Leone (up 10 at 75th) and Mali (up 9 at 99th) have all seen significant improvements, including the release of four journalists with the independent Burundian media Iwacu, the repeal of a law criminalising press offences in Sierra Leone and a fall in the number of abuses in Mali.
RSF’s global indicator – its measure of the level of media freedom worldwide – is only 0.3% lower in the 2021 Index than it was in 2020. However, the past year’s relative stability should not divert attention from the fact that it has deteriorated by 12% since this indicator was created in 2013.
- Costa Rica
- New Zealand
Surprisingly, two Southern African countries, Namibia (24) and South Africa (32), enjoy a greater level of press freedom than the United Kingdom (33) and the United States (44)
- 170 Saudi Arabia
- 171 Cuba
- 172 Laos
- 173 Syria
- 174 Iran
- 175 Vietnam
- 176 Djibouti
- 177 China
- 178 Turkmenistan
- 179 North Korea
- 180 Eritrea
In 2020 54 reporters were killed on duty with Mexico (8) the biggest perpetrator
There are currently 420 journalists and assistant journalists in prison. China (73) is the biggest perpetrator, Saudi Arabia second with 32 and Egypt third with 31
There is a clear correlation between countries closed for the Gospel and countries where information flow is restricted. Christians living in nations where there is freedom of expression and freedom of communication should therefore respond firstly by acknowledging that this is a gift, not to abuse it, but to use it for Kingdom purposes. Secondly to give thanks and be grateful that there exists the freedom to confirm, criticize or contribute to a fluent flow of information. Thirdly, to speak out for those who cannot speak on their own behalf
Proverbs 31:8-9 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.