In a marketplace where print – and particularly newsprint – circulation numbers are declining, how important is press freedom?
It has never been more important.
Press freedom and freedom of speech are interlinked.
Over 48 journalists were killed in 2018, and it is estimated that over 100 were imprisoned (estimates vary depending on sources and the figure may even be in excess of 300). Killed or imprisoned for daring to use words.
Words are clearly seen as weapons for some, and indeed they can cause a lot of damage. However, it seems that journalists are facing more pressures while working in increasingly unsafe conditions The Press Freedom Index (compiled by Reporters Without Borders) assesses the state of journalism in 180 countries and territories, and it makes interesting reading. “Safe” countries are in decline.
“If the political debate slides surreptitiously or openly towards a civil war-style atmosphere, in which journalists are treated as scapegoats, then democracy is in great danger,” said Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) secretary-general Christophe Deloire. “Halting this cycle of fear and intimidation is a matter of the utmost urgency for all people of good will who value the freedoms acquired in the course of history.”
The world seems to be becoming less tolerant and less open-minded.
Now, we each have our own opinion when it comes to the tabloids’ gossip journalism.
All too often they do not seem to care about the human and mental health repercussions of their reporting. At times there is an unbearable level of hypocrisy mixed with dubious opportunism.
The Leveson enquiry marked an important battle, but nothing concrete really came out of it.
Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 is meant to punish newspapers in libel and privacy cases. However, most of the industry has chosen instead to toughen up its self-regulation. And as the example of Gareth Thomas’s HIV revelations clearly shows, this self-regulation is not always well policed
Prolific fake news is also a problem. In this era of fake news, it is of paramount importance that multiple viewpoints can be put forward.
These are all major ethical issues.
A free press is essential as part of a democratic society.
Many endangered journalists dare to report in non-democratic areas of the world or in democracies where powerful individuals and lobbies throw their weight around in obvious or in inconspicuous ways.
The press can champion, reveal, and provide a voice for important topics and causes at national, regional and local level. The press can educate, inspire and whistle-blow on significant issues. The press can give a voice to the underdog and the unfairly treated. That is precious and must be protected.
If press freedom is removed, we will no longer be a democracy, and we will be fed even more politically biased and twisted agendas.
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