It is another #WorldPressFreedomDay, to highlight violations of press freedom and by extension, freedom of expression and the way forward.
In 1993, the UN General Assembly set aside 3rd May as World Press Freedom Day following its adoption of the recommendation by the UNESCO at its 26th General Conference in 1991.
The observance seeks to beam the light on the many assaults to freedom of expression worldwide.
Today, publications and social media are censored, fined or suspended, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked and even killed.
This year’s theme, “Information as a Public Good,” seeks to underscore the importance of information as a public good, and to explore what is possible in the development, distribution and reception of content toward strengthening journalism, and to advance transparency and empowerment. This reasoning “recognizes the changing communications system that is impacting on the global health, human rights, democracies and sustainable development.”
According to the U.S.-based non-profit NGO, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 32 journalists were killed while a record 274 were jailed worldwide in the course of performing their duties in 2020. Two of the dead were in Africa (Somalia and Nigeria).
The CPJ in its annual Report noted that an unprecedented number of 110 journalists were arrested or criminally charged for “fake news” of “social media terrorism,” while 300 were assaulted, particularly by law enforcement agents during the period under review.
The worst jailers of journalists were China 47, Turkey 37, Egypt 27 and Saudi Arabia 24, and these do not include the figures for 2021.
In Nigeria, between 2020 and this year, at least three television stations were fined/sanctioned for alleged breach of the National Broadcasting Code.
The figures for media strictures in 2020 worldwide doubled those of the previous reporting period due to restrictions brought in by the authorities to stem the spread of the Covid-19.
In America, the media were particularly under intense pressure during the administration of former President Donald Trump, who branded most media as purveyors of fake news, except the pro-government ones.
The way forward.
As the world navigates the delicate path along the information ecosystem, it must take into account the Covid-induced ‘new nornal’ behaviours and the necessary adjustments to the New Media challenges.
The introspection must necessarily acknowledge the huge benefits attendant on the advancement of digital technology enjoyed by Netizens, and reconcile the advantages against the negative consequences from the abuse and misuse of social media, especially its anonymity and the invasion of privacy.
The #WorldPressFreedomDay, is this, an important occasion for stakeholders to take stock and reflect on the effective ways of separating the grains from the chaff of social media.
Undoubtedly, there has to be collective and inclusive efforts to inject some regulation and sanitization into the communications system devoid of disproportionate punitive measures that could defeat the very purpose/essence for free press or freedom of expression as inevitable ingredients for an integrating and globalizing World!
*Paul Ejime is a Communications/Media Expert and Global Affairs Analyst.