✏️ Milou Klein
With the king of misinformation currently in the White House and populist politicians – that is, politicians that tend to be good at making the working classes feel that their needs matter – gaining traction around the world, we need a free and independent press now more than ever. In December of 1993, the United Nations General Assembly established May 3 of each year World Press Freedom Day. It was established as an opportunity to celebrate the foundational principles of press freedom, to assess press freedom around the world and to defend the media from attacks on their independence.
While we should be able to trust our government officials to have our best interests at heart and be completely transparent about their actions, it is painfully clear that we desperately need the media as a way of monitoring and holding our governments accountable. A free press can provide us with a sense of certainty and something to rely on (or someone to tell you that you should, in fact, NOT ingest bleach to recover from coronavirus). In times like these, we all need that.
The world of media and journalism, however, is going through an even more uncertain time. In 2020 so far, 13 journalists and media workers have been killed. Since 2000, a shocking 1040 journalists have been killed. This number does not even include those who are still missing.
Most recently, Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin, two Chinese nationals who had been documenting the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic went missing within days of each other.
The common factor between the two? They had both been documenting the outbreak in Wuhan, showing scared and grief-stricken citizens. Most of all, what they were showing was a dissatisfaction with the government.
With coronavirus making its way into prisons as well, the safety of imprisoned journalists is even more compromised. Their freedom is now more urgent and important than ever, as it directly influences their health and lives. Committee for Protection of Journalists, a watchdog organisation promoting press freedom and protecting journalists everywhere is calling on governments to release these journalists immediately and unconditionally.
The government themselves benefit from a free press as well. Coverage of policy implementation can offer insight into public opinion and the perception of the government’s actions. Having a free press works as a stabilising factor in a country, because people will know there are powerful outlets to make dissatisfaction known.
What we need is an independent and powerful court system. Columbia University Global Freedom of Expression initiative has noticed that even in countries that do not necessarily uphold freedom of speech or work to protect journalists, courts do uphold these basic rights. The organisation has honoured courts and legal groups all over the world who have worked to protect the free press.
However, not just courts are able to help in the fight for press freedom. It is clear that the relationship between government, citizens and the free press is one we all benefit from. To ensure this relationship exists everywhere, we have to be vigilant and vocal about our disgruntlement with regards to the violations of our right to freedom of press. As much as we need the free press, they need us even more. They need us to be loud and vocal. They need us to be critical. They need us to be outraged.
There is nothing wrong with criticising the media. In fact, I urge you to be as critical as possible. As a human-made product, it is bound to be flawed. But there is a difference between criticising, and governments and politicians hand-picking which pieces of information are convenient and labelling inconvenient truths as lies is absolutely unacceptable. It violates everything we need to stand for in a free and fair democracy.
That is why I urge you today, of all days to think about what kind of society you want to live in. We have to turn the tide and make sure that we are no longer allowing journalists to be in danger, simply for doing their job. I urge you to think about Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin, only two of the many journalists who have gone missing in pursuit of sharing information and helping others.
Whatever your age, whoever you are, you can help in the fight for press freedom everywhere. Start a petition, write to your government, be a strong advocate on social media. These are all things you can do to help achieve press freedom everywhere. Even just talking about these journalists who have gone missing will help. Say their names. Make sure the people around you are aware. You have a voice, and the rest of the world needs to hear it. If only we can make the issue unacceptable in the public eye, we can change the tides and ensure press freedom everywhere.
Sign the petition to free imprisoned journalists here: https://www.change.org/p/global-leaders-release-imprisoned-journalists-around-the-world
For more information on how to write to your MP: https://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/contact-your-mp/
For more information about organisations and how you can help go to:
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