World Press Day: Press freedom around the World

May 3rd is globally observed as World Press Day, celebrating the freedom of expression for the press.

  • 3 Iranian women win World Press Freedom Prize
  • 86 journalists were reported dead last year, up from 55 in 2021
  • 70% of countries have an environment for journalism that can be considered “bad”
  • Media ownership converging in the hand of a small group of individuals is destroying the plurality
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres (UN Photo/Mark Garten)

World Press Day 2023 was preceded by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ remarks on press freedom, “In every corner of the world, freedom of the press is under attack” he said in a video message. While no direct accusations were made against any country, several cases of unlawful detentions of journalists, and even deaths under suspicious circumstances can be recounted from just last year.

The 2023 World Press Freedom Prize was awarded by UNESCO to three Iranian women- Niloufar Hamedi (who broke the news about Mahsa Amini’s death by the morality police last September), Elaheh Mohammadi (who wrote about Mahsa Amini’s funeral), Narges Mohammadi (a venerated journalist and one of Iran’s most prominent activists), all three of whom are currently imprisoned on arbitrary charges for their reporting.

According to UNESCO’s Freedom of Expression report, 86 journalists were killed last year, that’s up from the 55 deaths reported in 2021. Nearly half of these deaths happened when the reporters were “off-duty”, i.e., traveling, in public spaces, or at their homes. Even when they don’t get served death, the weaponization of defamation laws, cyber laws, and anti-fake news laws can and are being used to limit the freedom of the press.

Every year, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) publishes their “World Press Freedom Index”, a ranking of press freedom across 180 countries. Their 2023 report (published May 3rd) concludes that 128 countries out of the 180 countries evaluated this year have an environment that is “bad” for journalism, 31 of which are categorized as “very serious.”

Norway, ranks first for the 7th consecutive time in the world press freedom index, followed by Ireland and Denmark at 2nd and 3rd. The bottom of the list has Vietnam (178th), China (179th), and North Korea (180th). RSF notes that two-thirds of the countries they evaluated reported a massive increase in disinformation and propaganda campaigns supported by political figures. 

Since January of 2023 alone, 6 journalists and 1 media worker have been killed, and 546 journalists along with 22 media workers are currently detained across the globe, press freedom is under threat. Not helping the situation is the media ownership converging into the hands of a few corporations with their own political and socio-economic beliefs, crushing most opposing voices at the moment of inception with the threat of unemployment.

“Truth is threatened by disinformation and hate speech seeking to blur the lines between fact and fiction,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his address to the world. The press is considered the 4th pillar of democracy, the watchdog of all administration, but when the press itself is threatened, the people are vulnerable to manipulation through disinformation and/or propaganda. 

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