By Elaine Dunn | May 2023
May 3 is the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day. The day acknowledges the service provided by press professionals. There is not a more pressing time than now to recognize the significance of the day since media freedom, safety of journalists and freedom of expression are under attack on so many fronts and in so many countries.
And, no, the People’s Republic of China and Russia are not the only or worst offenders. The 2022 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders ranked the worst countries out of 180 countries as North Korea (180), Eritrea (179), Iran (178), Turkmenistan and China (177). Russia ranked 155th. The U.S. ranked 42.
In the U.S., it’s been very obvious that freedom of expression had been eroding in the past seven years or so. Only certain “preferred narratives” are accepted and espoused by certain news media and social media platforms. Journalists and “talking heads” on both sides of the aisle had taken liberties with “facts.” Often, objective reporting co-mingled with personal opinions, leaving readers and viewers to sort out what is actual news and whether what’s presented is misinformation or disinformation!
The Reporters Without Borders report stated, “In the United States, once considered a model for press freedom and free speech, press freedom violations are increasing at a troubling rate.”
A Pew Research Center survey indicated 57% of U.S. journalists said they were “extremely or very concerned” about restrictions on press freedom.
In Russia, right after invading Ukraine in 2022, a law was passed threatening up to 15 years in prison for anyone publishing information the Russian government deemed false about the invasion. The recent arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich is the latest transgression.
In China, the March arrest of Taiwan-based publisher Li Yanhe is reminiscent of the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers in 2015. PEN America cited China as “the world’s largest jailer of writers in 2022 – the fourth year China’s taken the top spot. Hong Kong pro-democracy advocate media tycoon Jimmy Lai had been imprisoned in Hong Kong since 2020 under the broad National Security Law, facing an alleged charge linked to “seditious publications.” Lai had faced and been convicted of a series of charges since 2020, including one for attending an annual Hong Kong vigil for the Tiananmen Square massacre. The Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said, “It may be Jimmy Lai who is in the dock, but it is press freedom and the rule of law that will be on trial in Hong Kong.”
Four Kurdish journalists were arrested in Turkey late April ahead of the May 14 parliamentary and presidential elections.
A blog by the editor of The Washingtonian mentioned, “A record number of journalists were imprisoned in 2022, a sign of weakening press freedom worldwide, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. There were 363 journalists detained in more than 30 countries last year, with the highest number of detainees held in Iran, China and Myanmar, according to the CPJ. The overall figure is nearly double from 2015 and the most since the press-freedom group began tracking imprisonments three decades ago.”
As internet platforms grow and more people who don’t work for traditional news agencies can publish and share information online, one needs to remember the First Amendment protects more than just press professionals but everyone.
The stakes could not be higher. Maintaining press freedom and freedom of speech ensures a balance of power in government, an informed society and information engaged community.