Today on World Press Freedom Day, we salute journalists, editors, cartoonists, photographers and the increasing number of citizen journalists who make a noise despite great risk to their personal safety
Death threats and intimidation have failed to stop Mexico’s Anabel Hernández exposing the links between drug cartels and organised crime, business, police and government. Mexico is now one of the most dangerous and violent parts of the world for journalists to work in, and her brave investigative reporting on corruption and abuse of power in her country won Hernández the 2012 Golden Pen of Freedom, a global prize for defending the right to freedom of expression presented by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.
“Corruption grows through silence,” warns Hernández. “If journalists of my generation keep silent, if we give up our work for fear or complicity, journalists after us will be condemned to kneel to this corruption.” She hopes to stay alive to continue to investigate and document Mexico’s drug cartels.
Staying alive is never a given. In the past year 64 journalists have died doing their jobs. Last year’s Golden Pen of Freedom laureate, Dawit Isaak, a journalist of dual Eritrean-Swedish nationality and one of the founders of Eritrea’s first independent newspaper Setit, had vanished inside the Eritrean prison system where he has been detained without charge or trial for the past 11 years. Despite efforts by international organisations to trace him, he has not been heard of since 2009. Four journalists arrested with Mr Isaak in 2001 have since died in detention, and there are now serious doubts that he is still alive.
We also salute the bravery of Syrian political cartoonist Ali Ferzat, who despite being beaten and having his hands broken by pro-government thugs in August 2011, is drawing again. And Russian investigative journalist Eleana Milashina, who, despite the death of colleagues including Anna Politskovskaya, as well as threats to her own life, continues to cover human rights violations in the North Caucasus region.
These are but a few high-profile examples of brave journalists who refuse to bow to pressure. Around the world, the methods used to silence them vary greatly.
In China, government censorship and firewalls seem to be expanding to counteract growing social media networks.
In Pakistan, threats and violence are used to silence journalists. In the past five years, 38 journalists have been killed – many of them while carrying out their duties.
Commercial pressure in countries such as Argentina make media owners scared to publish anything that might offend for fear of losing government and government-linked advertising revenue.
In other countries, particularly some new democracies in Eastern Europe and Africa, journalists and publishers censor themselves and by avoiding criticising business and government, they hope to ensure favour through continued advertising, sponsorship and access.
Particularly in Africa, insult laws and criminal defamation legislation are widely used to outlaw criticism of politicians and those in authority. In South Africa, proposed legislation will stifle investigation and could see journalists found in possession of classified information sanctioned for committing a criminal offence.
It is not always easy to love the media. But the benefits of a free press are obvious whether it exposes corruption or abuse of power, uncovers public policy failures or simply informs the public about the issues they need to know to perform their civic responsibilities.
Freedom of the press implies freedom to criticize. Throughout history, criticism and the courage to doubt have been a driving force of change and development of society. Freedom of expression as a principle is centuries old. It rests on the insight that man must be able to communicate freely to be free. Today all developed countries have discovered that doubt, question and dissent do not weaken a nation. On the contrary, they make it stronger.
Today we honour editors and journalists who put their life in danger because of their reporting or commentary. We support those journalists and publishers who do their jobs despite restrictions and impunity. And as Golden Pen laureate Anabel Hernández warns, silence makes us complicit and kills democracy.
The writer is a Danish editor and President of the World Editors Forum. The content has been provided by WAN-INFRA
What the index says this year
“This year’s index sees many changes in the rankings, changes that reflect a year that was incredibly rich in developments, especially in the Arab world,” Reporters Without Borders said as it released its 10th annual press freedom index. “Many media paid dearly for their coverage of democratic aspirations or opposition movements. Control of news and information continued to tempt governments and to be a question of survival for totalitarian and repressive regimes. The past year also highlighted the leading role played by netizens in producing and disseminating news.
Crackdown was the word of the year in 2011. Never has freedom of information been so closely associated with democracy. Never have journalists, through their reporting, vexed the enemies of freedom so much. Never have acts of censorship and physical attacks on journalists seemed so numerous. The equation is simple: the absence or suppression of civil liberties leads necessarily to the suppression of media freedom. Dictatorships fear and ban information, especially when it may undermine them.
Countries with least amount of press freedom
Eritrea: Ranked at 179 (last place) in the index, it has occupied this slot for five consecutive years now. There is no current independent media in Eritrea. Freedom of opinion, like all the other freedoms, does not exist under the totalitarian dictatorship that President Issaias Afeworki has imposed on this Horn of Africa country.
Countries with the most amount of press freedom
Finland & Norway: Finland keeps the top spot this year and shares it with Norway. They are the engines of press freedom. They have set an example in the way they respect journalists and news media and protect them from judicial abuse.
Estonia & Netherlands
It is worth noting the entry of Cape Verde and Namibia into the top twenty, two African countries where no attempts to obstruct the media were reported in 2011.