World Association of News Publishers

Global Remedies From Press Freedom Roundtable

Global Remedies From Press Freedom Roundtable

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Media managers from around the globe met for a press freedom roundtable to cap off the World News Media Congress in Estoril, Portugal on 8 June. There, journalists addressed the accomplishments they’ve achieved and what still needs to be done to maintain free and independent media.

By Colette Davidson

While some areas are seeing notable gains in terms of press freedom, just as many or more are moving backwards. According to the 2018 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), there is a growing animosity towards journalists across the globe, with hostility towards the media that is often encouraged by political leaders or authoritarian regimes.

Threats to journalism equals threats to democracy, which made it even more essential for journalists from WAN-IFRA’s Global Media Freedom Committees (MFC) to speak out about the experiences in their countries at a Press Freedom Roundtable on the final day of the World News Media Congress in early June.

Before hearing from individual members, Guy Berger, the Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO, and Maria Ressa, CEO and Executive Editor of in the Philippines, spoke about the need for independent media.

Berger said that populist governments, which have gained ground in Europe and the United States, are an increasing threat to press freedom. Whether leaders are calling mainstream media “fake news” or closing down news sites they don’t agree with, more governments are attempting to curb the amount of information its citizens receive.

“More and more countries are shutting the internet down,” says Berger. “It cuts people’s access to the media and for people to get reliable information, creates grounds for rumor, gossip and misinformation.”

Yet ironically, says Berger, due to the power of social media, the more governments try to curb information, the more people are receiving it around the world.

Rappler’s Ressa knows the phenomenon all too well, where her social media website has gained a faithful following as well as a backlash from the government. During the roundtable discussion, Ressa said journalists were “handcuffed because of our position on social media” and called for a collective media alliance to fight impunity for crimes against journalists.

Next, MFC Chairs took the microphone to offer updates on press freedom in their respective countries. Karabo Rajuili, the MFC Chair for South Africa, said the challenge there was getting journalists from different media to come together on press freedom, as well as addressing the pay gap, gender imbalances and sexual harassment in the newsroom.

Ghias Aljundi, SMS Regional Manager of the MENA Region, discussed the effects of the ongoing war in Syria and how traditional media have become increasingly limited as the conflict drags on.

“Citizen journalists in Syria are doing an amazing job by sending the truth outside of Syria,” says Aljundi. “We are depending on them because there is no other way in.”

Violence, bombings and insurgencies are also constant challenges for journalists in Mindanao, a region of the Philippines plagued by long-simmering unrest. Editha Caduaya, Chair of the Mindanao MFC, says that physical and digital threats as well as intimidation have severely affected how journalists there do their job. She urged for journalists to fight for their own rights, as well as those of others.

“If we are the messengers of the oppressed, the victims of injustice, who takes care of us?” she asked.

The question of impunity resurfaced when conversation moved to Latin America. Adrian Lopez Ortiz, Chair of the Mexico MFC, discussed how the number of journalists assassinated in Mexico keeps going up, and that while the country has implemented numerous mechanisms to protect journalists, crimes are committed against them with 99 percent impunity.

Moving on to Europe, Leon Willems, the Director of the Netherlands-based Free Press Unlimited, said there’s been a “head-on battle with fake news” recently and that independent press are increasingly under more pressure of state capture.

“Why doesn’t the EU put a couple billion euros into supporting public independent media?” he asked. “We support agriculture, infrastructure, tourism.”

Finally, Carol Beyanga, the Uganda MFC Chair, urged journalists to remain in solidarity – instead of competing against one another. It is a lesson she learned when she and her fellow committee members worked together to seek the release of Red Pepper journalists who were jailed in November.

“It’s been interesting to see what the group has done – we’ve had some wins and we hope we can continue to do a number of things in the name of press freedom,” says Beyanga. “When we come together we can really do many things.”


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Andrew Heslop


2018-06-25 10:09

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In countless countries, journalists, editors and publishers are physically attacked, imprisoned, censored, suspended or harassed for their work. WAN-IFRA is committed to defending freedom of expression by promoting a free and independent press around the world. Read more ...