Verbal attacks by presidential candidates in the U.S., new security laws in Europe and increased surveillance of information are some of the new challenges journalists face today, media freedom advocates said on the eve of World Press Freedom Day.
World Press Freedom Day aims to raise awareness of press freedom. It falls this year on Tuesday, coinciding with the 250th anniversary of the world’s first freedom of information law and the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration of press freedom principles in Africa.
Last year was one of the worst years for press freedom, according to Sarah Repucci, project director at the Freedom House, a non-partisan group that researches issues relating to human rights and other basic freedoms.
“In the US, in the run up for the elections, we are seeing a huge amount of polarization in the media and we have also seen some very troubling verbal attacks against the media and against the idea that journalists should be free to criticize candidates,” Repucci said.
Freedom House released a report in April, stating that press freedom declined to its lowest in 2015 in more than a decade, with a global average score of 48.9, lowest since 2003. About 46% of the world’s population lives in areas without press freedom, while 41% of it enjoys partly-free press, according to the report.
“What we have seen across Europe has been the use of security and surveillance laws to limit the space for free expression,” said Repucci. “[It’s] a new trend in Europe to use the security laws against the media.”Europe as a whole had the largest decline in press freedom in any regions in the report.
Courtney Radsch, advocacy director at Committee to Protect Journalists, says that sexual attacks on female journalists is another issue that needs to be talked about on Press Freedom Day.
“It’s much hard to report with sexualized violence,” she said. “One of the ways to reduce stigma (about harassment of women in the media) is to talk about it, to discuss the issue.”
“In the U.S. and western Europe, we don’t really see a lot of imprisonment or murder of journalists as much as we do elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other threats that undermine a free press,” Radsch said.
Increased surveillance and control of information is the biggest threat to media freedom in U.S., she said. Such intrusive tactics are preventing journalists from keeping their sources secret and secure, she said.
“It’s important to take a day to remember those [journalists] who paid with their lives, who paid their bodies or are behind the bars (to inform the public),” Radsch added. (Courtesy USA Today)