threat to press freedom

Demonstration in memory of the murdered journalist Ján Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kušnírová. Bratislava, March 2018 Photo: Peter Tkac, Flickr


Greater threat to press freedom than before

The threat to journalists and media workers has increased globally in 2018, according to reports from press freedom organizations. The alarming trend does not seem to be slowing down and there is a call for improvement.

Never before have there been so many countries on the list of serious press freedom issues on Reporters Without Borders karta like now. Among the countries at the bottom are North Korea, Somalia and Sudan - which also have a high level of corruption according to the Transparency International index.

What distinguishes these three countries is that in North Korea, the state controls all communications and files transmitted via their national intranet. If a North Korean sees, hears or listens to media from other countries, there is a risk of being sent to concentration camps. In Somalia, media harassment intensified in 2018. The Sudanese government is particularly hostile to press freedom and often uses censorship.

Reporters Without Borders' annual compilation also presents an increase in murders and abuses against journalists in 2018 than the year before. It is documented that 80 media workers were murdered, 348 were imprisoned and 60 were held hostage.

Afghanistan is at the top with 15 journalists killed, Syria with 11 and Mexico with 9. In China, there are the most imprisoned journalists, 60, Egypt has 38 and Turkey 33.

In a report from the organization INSI in 2018, it is stated that media workers were murdered in countries that were judged to be safe. It turned out that the means that could be used to kill a messenger were underestimated.

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi often criticized his country's government and had lived in self-imposed exile in the United States when he wrote columns for the Washington Post. He was assassinated after visiting the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, which generated global anger.

Europe's press freedom under threat

In early February, the annual was released report of 12 press freedom organizations in collaboration with the European Council, which shows a worrying development regarding the attitude towards freedom of the press and punishment in Europe. It warns that a climate of impunity, which means that government agencies do not give priority to identifying, prosecuting and punishing those who use violence against journalists, has begun to take hold in parts of Europe.

Jan Kuciak worked as an investigative reporter in Slovakia. He had gathered evidence of a possible embezzlement of EU funds and suspected tax evasion in connection with a construction project. None of the individuals who planned and paid for the attack have been identified or prosecuted.

It is not only at the individual level that press freedom is threatened, but also state funds such as new repressive laws or cuts are used to push back the media.

An example is the Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Hungary, who changed the media landscape after his accession in 2010. News media became nationalized and uncritical of the government. The few independent productions that remain have to endure a restrictive regulatory environment and public campaigns in order to give them a bad reputation.

A new contract with DR was also introduced in Denmark, which is their equivalent to Public Service. This included, among other things, restrictions on mandates, restrictions on their presence on digital platforms, the removal of the license fee and its replacement to be directly financed by the state budget, and the fact that 400 people were allowed to quit their jobs.

Appeal for better protection for journalists

There are laws and directives that affect journalists and freedom of the press in a global work. Article 19 i UN Convention on Human Rights deals with the right to express oneself and have opinions without the intervention of an outside party.

Another is humanitarian law under the laws of war, which are essentially governed by the Geneva Conventions. You can be classified as a war correspondent under them, then you have the right to prisoner of war status if you are captured, or as a freelance or journalist on a dangerous mission, who then has status and protection as a civilian if they refrain from taking part in the conflicts.

The International Federation of Journalists, IFJ, draws attention to what needs to be improved in the work regarding the international convention in order to protect journalists and media workers. They call on states to develop the protection that exists, insofar as it protects individuals with journalistic work.

It is understood that working as a journalist and media worker is dangerous, with the risk of losing your own life. Freedom of the press is vulnerable and an individual is more exposed than that when protection today is lacking.

The question we must ask ourselves is - how much is press freedom worth to be able to protect it and how many will have to die before it changes?

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