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Press Freedom Day: Remembering Those Who Died on the Job

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By David E. Hubler
Edge Contributor

Monday, May 3, is World Press Freedom Day. The commemoration acts “as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom,” according to a UNESCO statement.

World Press Freedom Day (WPFD 2021) “is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. 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.”

At American Public University, students of political science examine issues of freedom that require making informed judgments about governments and how they treat their citizens, which can include interactions with the press. Students analyze the fundamental theories and philosophies of government, governance, economy, and civil society.

Last year also saw a 35% increase in the number of women journalists arbitrarily detained, and a fourfold increase in arrests of journalists during the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time 14 journalists who were arrested in connection with their coverage of the pandemic are still being held, the UNESCO statement said.

According to a statement from Reporters Without Borders (RSF), this year’s theme is “Information as a Public Good.” It is intended to serve “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 by recognizing “the changing communications system that is impacting on our health, our human rights, democracies and sustainable development.”

To underline the importance of information within the online media environment, WPFD 2021 will highlight three key topics:

  • 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.

A Total of 50 Journalists Were Killed Worldwide in 2020

World Press Freedom Day is also a time to remember those journalists who lost their life in the pursuit of a story. A total of 50 journalists were killed worldwide in 2020, according to the annual round-up of abusive treatment and violence against journalists, published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). “While the number of journalists killed in countries at war continues to fall, more are being murdered in countries not at war,” the RSF noted. In 2019, 53 journalists were killed.

“The world’s violence continues to be visited upon journalists,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said in the RSF press release. “Some may think that journalists are just the victims of the risks of their profession, but journalists are increasingly targeted when they investigate or cover sensitive subjects. What is being attacked is the right to be informed, which is everyone’s right.”

84% Of the Journalists Killed in 2020 were Knowingly Targeted and Deliberately Murdered

“Of all the journalists killed in connection with their work in 2020, 84% were knowingly targeted and deliberately murdered, as compared to 63% in 2019. Some were murdered in a particularly barbaric manner,” the RSF release reported.

“In Mexico, Julio Valdivia Rodríguez, a reporter for the daily El Mundo, was found beheaded in the eastern state of Veracruz, while Víctor Fernando Álvarez Chávez, the editor of the local news website Punto x Punto Noticias, was cut to pieces in the western city of Acapulco.

“In India, Rakesh ‘Nirbhik’ Singh, a reporter for the Rashtriya Swaroop newspaper, was burned alive in December after being doused with a highly flammable, alcohol-based hand sanitiser in his home in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh by men sent by a local official whose corrupt practices he had criticised, while Isravel Moses, a TV reporter in the southeastern state of Tamil Nadu, was hacked to death with machetes.

 “In Iran, it was the state that acted as executioner. Rouhollah Zam, the editor of the Amadnews website and Telegram news channel, was hanged after being sentenced to death in an unfair trial. Although executions are common in Iran, it was the first time in 30 years that a journalist has been subjected to this archaic and barbaric practice.”

World Press Freedom Day has its origins in a UNESCO conference in Windhoek on May 3, 1991. The conference ended with the adoption of the landmark Windhoek Declaration for the Development of a Free, Independent and Pluralistic Press. 

After 30 years, the foundational connection between the freedom to seek, and receive information and the public good remains as relevant as it was at the time of the Declaration’s signing. Special commemorations of the 30th anniversary are planned during World Press Freedom Day International Conference.

 World press freedom index

This year’s theme is “Information as a Public Good,” which is intended to serve “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 by recognizing “the changing communications system that is impacting on our health, our human rights, democracies and sustainable development.”

To underline the importance of information within our online media environment, WPFD 2021 will highlight three key topics:

  • 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.

To mark the day, UNESCO and the Government of Namibia are sponsoring the 2021 Global Conference on April 29 – May 3 in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.

David E. Hubler brings a variety of government, journalism and teaching experience to his position as a Quality Assurance Editor. David’s professional background includes serving as a senior editor at CIA and the Voice of America. He has also been a managing editor for several business-to-business and business-to-government publishing companies.

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