World Press Freedom Day
Updated: May 4, 2021
"Information is a public good, and as a public good, it needs public support.”
- Joseph E. Stiglitz
The World Press Freedom Day is observed on 3rd May, every year. 3 May acts 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 press freedom and professional ethics issues.
Just as importantly, World Press Freedom Day is a day of support for media which are targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom. It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the pursuit of a story.
The day was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) General Conference.
Since then, 3rd May, the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek is celebrated worldwide as World Press Freedom Day.
Significance of Day
The day acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom.
To celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom.
Assess the state of press freedom throughout the world.
Defend the media from attacks on their independence.
Pay homage to journalists who have lost their lives when doing their duty.
World Press Freedom Day 2021
This year’s World Press Freedom Day theme “Information as a Public Good” serves as a call to affirm the importance of cherishing information as a public good and exploring what can be done in the production, distribution, and reception of content to strengthen journalism and to advance transparency and empowerment while leaving no one behind. The theme is of urgent relevance to all countries across the world. It recognizes the changing communications system that is impacting our health, our human rights, democracies, and sustainable development.
Especially in digital form, a fact ‘consumed’ by one person does not prevent others from also ‘consuming’ it.
Information is inherently non-exclusive, although many factors create artificial restrictions – whether these be paywalls, copyright, official and corporate secrecy, and direct censorship.
Information also has positive externalities or positive spillovers.
As a public good with potential for universal reach, the information allows us to know our rights and prerogatives, as well as contributes to the general interest, at the service of sustainable development.
The importance of freely accessing reliable information, particularly through journalism has been demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic: in times of crisis such as this, information can be a matter of life or death. This has been especially true in the face of the COVID-19 ‘disinfodemic’, a mixture of misinformation and disinformation that has spread across the world sowing confusion, discord, and division.
The lack of publicly available reliable data and information has created a vacuum for potentially harmful content (including hate speech) and misleading conspiracy theories mostly spread online through Internet business models and actors who exploit these.
The COVID-19 public health crisis has shed light on the vital role played by free and independent media worldwide.
The output of news media (be it in print, television or radio, analogue, or delivered via digital platforms) remains a powerful source of information that people access, even when this is via social media networks.
In this way, media workers everywhere have significantly contributed to our understanding of the pandemic by making overwhelming and highly complex flows of information more accessible, making scientific facts understandable to the broader public, providing regularly updated data, and engaging in fact-checking. In many countries, journalists and fact-checkers have critically monitored contracting and subsidies that respond to the pandemic and have faced pressure from authorities as a result. In other cases, they have been hampered by measures put in place to contain the virus as well as challenges from both police and the public during the host of public protests that have characterized this period.
Steps to ensure the economic viability of news media
Mechanisms for ensuring transparency of Internet companies
Enhanced Media and Information Literacy (MIL) capacities that enable people to recognize and value, as well as defend and demand, journalism as a vital part of information as a public good.
On the 30th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration, 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. The theme of “Windhoek
2021: Promoting Information as a Public Good” serves as a call to renew the global
commitment to freedom of expression, press freedom, and freedom of information,
while acknowledging the new economic challenges faced by the media sector, the
gatekeeping role of internet companies and their need for greater transparency,
as well as the strong need for Media and Information Literacy capacities to be
Promoting information as a public good is necessary to ‘build back better in the
post-COVID world. It is a value that strongly supports the UN Sustainable
Development aspiration to advance “public access to information and fundamental
freedoms” (SDG 16.10). And it constitutes the new normative context to highlight
free, pluralistic, and independent journalism as a springboard for progress.
Journalism, the main vaccine against disinformation, is completely or partly blocked in 73% of the 180 countries.
Only 12 of the Index’s 180 countries (7%) can claim to offer a favorable environment for journalism.
The covid-19 pandemic has been used to perfection by nations to control the spread of information.
The Report has raised concern about the larger Asia-Pacific region as several nations in an attempt to curb freedom of the press have in place draconian laws on ‘sedition,’ ‘state secrets’ and ‘national security.
Norway has topped yet again for the fifth year in the row, followed by Finland and Denmark.
Eritrea is at the bottom meanwhile China is ranked 177 and is only above North Korea at 179 and Turkmenistan at 178.
India has ranked 142nd yet again out of 180 nations in the recently unveiled World Press Freedom Index.
The index is published each year by the international journalism not-for-profit body, Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
India was ranked 142 in the year 2020 as well, thus showing no improvement in the environment it provides to its journalists.
India has fared poorly amongst its neighbours with Nepal at 106, Sri Lanka at 127, and Bhutan at 65. Pakistan is a close follower at 145th spot.
India is among the countries classified as “bad” for journalism and is termed as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists trying to do their jobs properly.
The report has blamed an environment of intimidation created by the nationalist government for any critical journalist often brandishing them as anti-state or anti-national.
The situation is worrying in Kashmir, where incidents of harassment of reporters by police and paramilitaries have surfaced.
Reasons Behind India’s Poor Performance:
Journalists are exposed to every kind of attack, including police violence against reporters, ambushes by political activists, and reprisals instigated by criminal groups or corrupt local officials.
The journalists have often been subjected to coordinated hate campaigns on social networks.
The theme for World Press Freedom Day 2021 is of urgent relevance to all countries
across the world. It recognizes the changing communications system that is impacting
our health, our human rights, democracies, and sustainable development. To
underline the importance of information within this new ecosystem, it is important to
address current issues of media viability, platform transparency, and user literacy
Awareness of the interdependence of these factors within the bigger picture is a step
towards an improved information ecology. Such awareness is a prelude to potential
changes in policy, regulation, self-regulation, multi-stakeholder governance,
education, and informed public participation. Information is an entitlement of each
individual, but its availability, prominence, and recognition is a common concern. This is why 3 May 2021 is a chance to affirm the importance of cherishing information
as a public good, and exploring what can be done in the production, distribution, and reception of content to strengthen journalism and to advance transparency and
empowerment while leaving no one behind.