World Press Freedom Day | Daily News

World Press Freedom Day

Today, countries around the world are celebrating the 25th edition of the World Press Freedom Day. The main celebration is being held in Ghana this year. Launched by the United Nations in December 1993, the World Press Freedom Day has become the internationally recognised occasion to reassess the significance of free media for a democratic society. It is a date to encourage and develop initiatives in favour of press freedom, and to assess the state of press freedom worldwide. It serves as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. This year’s theme is ‘Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law’.

World Press Freedom Day is a day of support for media which are targets for restraint, or abolition, of press freedom. It is also a day of remembrance for journalists around the world who lost their lives in the exercise of their profession. At least 80 journalists and media workers were killed last year worldwide while more than 260 journalists were jailed. Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid (popularly known as Shawkan), arrested in 2013, has won the 2018 UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize. The award “honours a person, organisation or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the defense and/or promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world, and especially when this has been achieved in the face of danger.”

More and more journalists worldwide are facing danger, as the latest Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) shows. The climate of hatred is steadily more visible in the Index, which evaluates the level of press freedom in 180 countries. Hostility towards the media from political leaders is no longer limited to authoritarian countries where “media-phobia” is now so pronounced that journalists are routinely accused of terrorism and all those who don’t offer loyalty can be imprisoned. According to RSF, many leaders no longer see the media as an essential part of democracy, but as an adversary to which they openly display aversion. The line separating verbal violence from physical violence is dissolving, the Report adds.

In this year’s Index, Norway is first for the second year running, followed – as it was last year – by Sweden (2nd). Taiwan (Rank 42) has the freest press in Asia and Bhutan leads South Asia at 84th place. At the other end of the Index, North Korea (180th) is still last. Sri Lanka has fared very creditably in this edition of the index, climbing 10 places to 131 (in 2017, it was 141) which amounts to a vast improvement within just one year. The National Unity Government has made a clear commitment to media freedom and in fact, apart from one isolated incident there have been no attacks against journalists.

The Government has opened investigations into the assassination of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga, the disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda and assaults on several other journalists including Keith Noyahr during the last regime. Several arrests have been made reading these cases and legal proceedings are underway. Many other positive steps have been taken, including the introduction of Right to Information (RTI) laws. White vans are no longer following journalists who are critical of the Government. This momentum should continue and next year, we hope to see an even bigger improvement.

No Government can ‘grant’ media freedom per se. It is also up to the media organisations and journalists to report with responsibility and within ethical boundaries. Journalism needs more professionalism and it is vital to comprehensively train journalists. They should be given a sound training in ethical, balanced and objective reporting. The intense competition between media houses (both print and electronic) and also the emergence of new outlets such as blogs and social media has created a race to be the first with the news regardless of consequences. The truth can sometimes be a casualty of this process.

Moreover, some media in Sri Lanka are still polarized along ethnic and religious lines. We saw the dangerous consequences of this divide in the recent events in Ampara, Digana and Ginthota. It is also next to impossible to control the flow of “fake news” on the Internet, though this can have disastrous repercussions. It is heartening to note that both traditional and non-traditional media as well as social media sites are addressing this vital issue to avoid such events in the future.

The media landscape is constantly changing, primarily as a result of the emergence of the internet. Many question whether the traditional print newspaper will survive the next five decades, with many newspapers already having shifted to web or app only editions. This is no doubt a challenge, but it is also an opportunity to engage with younger audiences via multimedia. The keyword here is convergence, with audio, video, text and graphics all coming together to tell the story more effectively and clearly. Regardless of the medium, good journalism will never die because there will always be a story to tell.


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