This was the theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) held in Namibia where it started 30 years ago with the signing of the Windhoek Declaration for the Development of a Free, Independent, and Pluralistic Press. The celebration was a recognition of the struggle by journalists who made considerable sacrifices for press freedom and human rights to prevail. It further underscored the critical importance of verified and reliable information.
This year’s physical and virtual celebration last May 1-3 is doubly significant because our own Maria Ressa, Rappler’s CEO, had been named the 2021 laureate of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.
WPFD is an occasion for media, legal organizations, and especially, government, to take cognizance of the challenges confronting journalists today amid the changing media landscape. Centerlaw Philippines, in its message, deplores the example set by the President who had initiated verbal attacks against journalists. Too, a survey of 125 countries with the participation of 900 women journalists showed that online attacks on female journalists had significantly increased. And the World Press Freedom ranking of the Philippines had dropped two notches this year to 138th out of 180 countries.
The Committee to Protect Journalists still considers the country as one of the deadliest places worldwide for journalists. According to Melinda de Jesus, director of the Center for Freedom and Media Responsibility (CFMR), 273 attacks and threats to journalists nationwide was recorded in the past four years with 19 killings and the others, intimidation, libel threats, physical assaults and arrests. Of the 51 cases of intimidation, around 30 were those of red-tagging.
The conference at Namibia recognizes that the global communication system had undergone considerable change especially during these pandemic times, the impact not only on our health but also on our human rights, and our democracy. Thus, its focus on priorities such as taking steps to ensure the economic viability of the news media, availability of mechanisms to ensure transparency of internet services, and enhancing media and information literacy capacities that would enable people to recognize and value journalism as a vital part of information as a public good.
Therese San Diego Torres, director of Research, Policy and Advocacy of the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC), rapporteur of the Asia-Pacific forum on press freedom, notes these highlights of the regional forum which she presented together with representatives from New Zealand, Myanmar, India, South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines in Namibia:
- Decrease in number of journalists, drop in advertising share of news media; consumers embracing entertainment over public service media content; consumers less critical of misinformation and less careful in sharing data (New Zealand)
- Shutdown of independent news and arrest of journalists amid military rule; rising racism and religious narrow-mindedness, and the need to ensure accuracy and reporting in the proper context and perspective (Myanmar)
- Many still remain in the dark about the inner workings of online platforms, flow of disinformation and hate speech (Cambodia)
- Policies on ethics and accountability created by citizens involving multiple stakeholders needed (India)
- Ethical guidelines in machine learning and AI technology amid issues surrounding apps where hate speech and abuse are detected; public awareness of bias in algorithms, diversifying media consumption, breaking out of filter bubbles (South Korea)
- Spread of misinformation, collapse of media businesses; loss of jobs among journalists, need for media literacy and fact-checking (Indonesia)
- Need for people to be more reflective and less reactionary; listening to multiple viewpoints, providing inclusive, positive, and stimulating Media/Information literacy programs (Thailand)
- Media working under precarious conditions, and facing the risk of capture by political, economic, and ideological powers (Philippines)
Finally, a survey of 1,400 journalists in 125 countries by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University showed challenges, among them, disinformation by politicians, lack of trust in government, and mental health and burnout issues among journalists. But amid these concerns, positive consequences of the pandemic have been observed, among them feelings of renewed commitment to the profession, and perception of audience trust in their journalism and news organizations.
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