While the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in major challenges globally, a new upheaval in Europe is reminding the world that our democratic principles are constantly under threat. In fact, now more than ever Democracy is backsliding, civic space is shrinking, distrust, mis- and disinformation are growing while threats to the freedom of journalists and media workers are expanding by the day.
This year, Democracy Day will focus on the importance of media freedom to democracy, peace, and delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals.
Free, independent and pluralistic media, able to keep the public informed on matters of public interest, is a key ingredient to democracy. It enables the public to make informed decisions and hold governments to account. When media freedoms are under threat – the flow of information can be stifled, skewed or cut off entirely. Increasingly, journalists around the world face limits to their ability to operate freely – with a grave impact on human rights, democracy and development.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ video message for the International Day of Democracy, stresses that Democracy Cannot Survive without Free Press, Freedom of Expression.
Declining Press Freedom
UNESCO has reported that 85 per cent of the world’s population experienced a decline in press freedom in their country in the past five years.
Media globally are increasingly facing attacks, online and offline, increasing detention; the use of defamation laws as well as cybersecurity or hate speech laws to curb online expression; the growing use of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation Laws (SLAPPS) and surveillance technologies; to target them and hamper their work. The COVID-19 crisis has also shown how it has become more critical than ever for media to gather and evaluate facts and fight disinformation. Equally critical is ensuring online safety and security.
Women journalists are particularly impacted. UNESCO and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) found that 73 per cent of 714 women-identifying journalists from 125 countries have reported experiencing online violence in the course of their work.
Attempts to silence journalists are growing more brazen by the day and they often pay the ultimate price. From 2016 to the end of 2021, UNESCO recorded the killings of 455 journalists, who either died for their work or while on the job.
In “Our Common Agenda,” the Secretary-General emphasized the importance of civil society in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Civil society is essential in ensuring a free, independent and pluralistic media. From Gambia to Ukraine and Tunisia to Sri Lanka, civil society organizations have been drafting legal frameworks for access to information; combating hate speech, supporting local citizen journalism; fighting mis- and disinformation; and supporting media rights.
This year marks also the 10th anniversary of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. However, more needs to be done to reinforce its implementation as a multi-stakeholder coordination framework to protect journalists and fight impunity.
In his message on World Press Freedom Day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has urged governments, media organizations and technology companies everywhere to support the work of the media in speaking truth to power, exposing lies, and building strong, resilient institutions and societies.
Democracy and press freedom
The International Day of Democracy provides an opportunity to review the state of democracy in the world. Democracy is as much a process as a goal, and only with the full participation of and support by the international community, national governing bodies, civil society and individuals, can the ideal of democracy be made into a reality to be enjoyed by everyone, everywhere.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But around the world, there are governments and those wielding power who find many ways to obstruct it.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” The link between democracy and press freedom is also enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Source: Original article by UN