Why we need World Press Freedom Day
World Press Freedom Day on May 3 offers the chance to reflect on the price paid by journalists and media workers, their families, friends and colleagues.
No one going into journalism should expect to be universally loved. That’s not the job. But neither should journalists and media workers live in fear of being killed, assaulted or arrested for simply doing that job.
The first casualty of war is truth. But not far behind on the list are the truth seekers. There is a war on truth going on — and the bad people appear to be winning.
Both actual and symbolic violence against journalism is on the rise. Last year, 94 journalists and media workers were killed carrying out their job, up 12 on the previous year, according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
Some deaths gain international prominence.
International ramifications continue, for instance, from the murder of Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
And many serve as the spark to action. The recent killing of journalist Lyra McKee, 29, in Northern Ireland has served to unite that community against the sectarian violence that scarred their lives for decades – and many thought was over.
Most journalists’ deaths leave the news cycle in a day or so. The dead would understand that reality.
Professor Peter Fray
Director, Centre for Media Transition, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Why did she die? Her killers, the New IRA, apologized to McKee’s family and said she was killed “while standing beside enemy forces”. The truth is she was killed for doing her job — bearing witness.
But most journalists’ deaths leave the news cycle in a day or so. The dead would understand that reality. But on World Press Freedom Day on May 3rd, we have the chance to reflect on the price paid by these individuals, their families, friends and colleagues. And do something about it.
By naming The Guardians and the War on Truth as its person of the year in 2018, Time magazine confirmed what most journalists know: it is getting harder to do your job — harder in multiple ways. Journalism needs your support.
There are direct and indirect ways to do that. Locally, Media Solidarity and Safety Fund works to make journalism safer; globally, the Committee to Protect Journalists does much the same thing, as does the IFJ.
But there are others ways we can assist truth seekers. Much of the violence against journalism is symbolic. Calling journalists “the enemy of the people” and purveyors of ‘fake news” are the most obvious example.
As I said at the beginning, journalists don’t expect to be loved. But the vast majority work to serve two masters – one, their employer, and secondly, the public good. And the vast majority have a bias towards truth.
I am the first to admit that journalism isn’t perfect. But it is not the purveyor of fake news and journalists are not the enemy of the people.
I hate journalists. I’m over dealing with the mainstream media as a form of communication with the people of Canberra.
Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory
So, please don’t undermine journalism and fuel those who attack it by sharing news that doesn’t come from a verified and reputable source. Don’t add to the mountains of fake news out there already.
Fortunately, Australia’s political leaders are less prone to inspire dislike against journalism – but they are not immune.
Here, for example, is the Labor Chief Minister of the ACT, Andrew Barr, early in 2018: “I hate journalists. I’m over dealing with the mainstream media as a form of communication with the people of Canberra.”
He later backed off, a little, but the damage was done: more “hate” against journalists.
At UTS, we are taking steps to help the fight against the spread of misinformation – and enhance the trust in journalism.
In time for the current Federal election, the Centre for Media Transition has launched the Asia Pacific bureau of the First Draft News, a global collaborative project which aims to research and expose the misinformation network and assist journalists and students learn the skills to do so. More information about First Draft can be found here.
There is much that can and will be done. On this World Press Freedom Day, we, at the Centre for Media Transition, salute journalists the world over for holding the powerful to account and bearing witness to the events, issues and people who shape our communities.
We hope you will too.
The Centre for Media Transition at UTS explores news media regulation and press freedom; news media best practice; and new business models for journalism. Peter Fray is the centre’s co-director.