Journalists march during World Press Freedom Day in Pakistan Journalists march during World Press Freedom Day in Pakistan  (ANSA)

World Press Freedom Day: A right increasingly endangered

On World Press Freedom Day, the UN Secretary-General , Antonio Guterres, reiterates his call on States to respect this fundamental human right which is also threatened by the fake news industry.

By Lisa Zengarini

As the world marks the 30th World Press Freedom Day on May 3, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has again reminded governments of their duty to respect and uphold this fundamental human right which, he said, “is the foundation of democracy and justice”.

On this day “the world must speak with one voice - Stop the threats and attacks. Stop detaining and imprisoning journalists for doing their jobs. Stop the lies and disinformation. Stop targeting truth and truth-tellers,” Guterres said in a video message telecast from the UN headquarters in New York at a special event organised by UNESCO on Tuesday on the eve of the observance.

At least 67 media workers killed in 2022

The UN Secretary-General recalled that at least 67 media workers were killed in 2022 (a startling 50 per cent increase over the previous years). He also remarked that the growing concentration of the media industry into the hands of a few, combined with the closure of many independent news outlets and the increase of national laws and regulations that stifle journalists are further threatening freedom of expression across the world. Moreover, “Truth is threatened by disinformation and hate speech, seeking to blur the lines between fact and fiction, between science and conspiracy", he said.

The theme of 2023 Press Freedom Day 

Press Freedom Day was established 30 years ago by the United Nations General Assembly to raise awareness of the importance of this basic human right enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year’s theme is “Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights” signifying the enabling element of freedom of expression to enjoy and protect all other human rights.

As every year, the observance offers an opportunity to assess the state of press freedom worldwide through the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) which sheds light on major and often radical changes linked to political, social and technological upheavals.

The 2023 World Press Freedom Index

The report published on Wednesday and examining 180 countries and territories confirms that in the face of the current multiple crises affecting the world, media freedom, journalist safety, and freedom of expression, as well as other human rights are increasingly under attack.

According to RFS’s findings, the situation is “very serious” in 31 countries (with North Korea at the bottom), “difficult” in 42, “problematic” in 55, and “good” or “satisfactory” in 52 countries, with Norway ranking first. In other words, the environment for journalism is “bad” in seven out of ten countries, and satisfactory in only three out of ten.

Fake  news and propaganda

The Index shows enormous volatility in situations, with major rises and falls and unprecedented changes resulting from increased aggressiveness on the part of the authorities in many countries and growing animosity towards journalists on social media and in the physical world. But the volatility is also the consequence of the rapid growth in the fake content industry, whose disinformation power has been further increased by the remarkable development of artificial intelligence.

In 118 countries (two-thirds of the 180 countries evaluated by the Index, most of the Index questionnaire’s respondents reported that political actors in their countries were often or systematically involved in massive disinformation or propaganda campaigns.

The unprecedented ability to tamper with content is being used to undermine those who embody quality journalism and weaken journalism itself.

This has happened, amongst others, in Russia, which has fallen another nine places ranking in 164th position in the Index. After its invasion of Ukraine (79th in the List) in February 2022, Moscow has established, in record time, a new media arsenal dedicated to spreading the Kremlin’s message in the occupied territories in southern Ukraine, while cracking down harder than ever on the last remaining independent Russian media outlets, which have been banned, blocked and/or declared "foreign agents”.

Senegal, Tunisia Perù and Haiti

Some of the 2023 Index’s biggest falls have been in Africa. Until recently a regional model, Senegal (104th) has fallen 31 places, while Tunisia (121st) has fallen 27 places as a result of President Kais Saied’s growing authoritarianism and inability to tolerate media criticism.

In Latin America, Perù (110th) has plummeted 33 places because its journalists are paying dearly for the persistent political instability and are being harassed, attacked and smeared because of their proximity to leading politicians.

The fall by Haiti (down 29 at 99th) is also due mainly to the continuing decline in the security environment.

Brazil, on the other hand (92nd), rose 18 places as a result of the departure of Jair Bolsonaro, whose presidential term was marked by extreme hostility towards journalists, and Lula da Silva’s election, heralding an improvement.

The Middle East and Asia

According to the Index the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) continues to be the world’s most dangerous region for journalists, with a situation classified as “very bad” in more than half of its countries and Saudi Arabia rooted near the bottom of the Index.

In Asia the situation has gone from “problematic” to “very bad” in three other countries: Tajikistan, India (down 11 at 161st) and Turkey (down 16 at 165th).

In India, media takeovers by oligarchs close to Prime Minister Modi have jeopardised pluralism, while the Erdogan administration in Turkey has stepped up its persecution of journalists in the run-up to elections scheduled for 14 May.

In Iran (177th), the heavy-handed crackdown on the protests triggered by the young student Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody drove the country’s “social context” and “judicial environment” scores even lower.

Germany falls five places

Europe, especially the European Union, is the region of the world where it is easiest for journalists to work, though there have been setbacks there too: Germany has fallen five places (21st), due to a record number of cases of violence against journalists.

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03 May 2023, 16:49