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Six issues that imperil press freedom worldwide


Six issues that imperil press freedom worldwide

Picture of Marjan Tillmans
Marjan Tillmans — Project Manager
April 30, 2018

What our new Media Landscapes reveal about challenges journalists face today

The world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place for journalists to do their job. With World Press Freedom Day just around the corner, it’s a good time to dig deeper into the challenges of journalists across the world and how they are experiencing (the lack of) press freedom in their countries.

Many of the newly added Media Landscapes cover countries that rank low in the recently launched World Press Freedom Ranking 2018.
Many of the newly added Media Landscapes cover countries that rank low in the recently launched World Press Freedom Ranking 2018.

Created together with local media experts, Media Landscapes are extensive reports on the journalism ecosystem in different countries. New Media Landscapes will be launched on the 3rd of May, World Press Freedom Day. They will feature detailed insights into the historical evolution and the current situation of the countries’ media scenes, putting them into vital socio-political contexts of regulation, legislation and press freedom.

As a preview of these upcoming reports, here are six valuable insights into the press freedom issues we thought you should know.

1. Restrictive media legislation is on the rise

The media sector is often an easy target for authoritarian leaders and other illiberal actors that aim to consolidate political power. Instead of having laws and regulations that create a supportive media environment, they aggressively pursue control of the media through restrictive media laws, nepotism, and crackdowns on independent media outlets.

In Bangladesh, for instance, the tendency to sue journalists under so-called defamation cases filed by pro-government people is alarming. Due to the provisions in the Information and Communication Technology Act, journalists are facing up to 14 years in jail. Since the law has no safeguard for journalists, in 2017 alone, two dozen journalists were sued under the Section 57 of the Act.

2. Censorship harms the coverage of controversial topics

In many countries around the world, laws and administrative practices are being abused to censor critical voices and silence public debates. Journalists reporting on controversial issues are often the main targets of these efforts.

The history of censorship in Myanmar shows that media is vulnerable to attacks on political grounds. Journalists have been regularly jailed. Privately-owned newspapers had not been permitted until the 1960s.

Field reporting from conflict-affected ethnic areas has suffered the most: Media access to these areas remains sporadic and the arrests of journalists, drivers and sources is still a common practice. When it comes to reporting news, the military’s ongoing role in the country’s political scene means that certain topics are off-limits.

3. It is still dangerous to be a journalist

Journalists around the world face major risks as a result of their work. Threats, surveillance, attacks, and even forced disappearance, arrest or killings are too often the cost of reporting the truth.

Somalia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist. The report issued by National Union of Somali Journalists (2017) explicitly state that journalists face, “endless violations”, killings, arrests, and impunity. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 62 journalists have been killed in Somalia since 1992. In 2017 alone five journalists were killed, three of whom were killed in explosions in Mogadishu.

4. Lack of training jeopardises credibility and trust

Media’s role as a source of objective information is challenged when professional and ethical journalism standards in the country are low. The lack of high-quality training institutions and professionalism in the sector, together with low salaries and social status create difficulties in retaining staff, ensuring bribery-free journalism and fostering credibility and trust in the media.

Pakistan went through a liberalisation of broadcasting in 2002 which resulted in professional journalism giving way to sensationalism. Commercial interests gained prominence in the media.

Today, many of those employed in the media sector get neither formal training nor education to work as journalists. Media schools curricula also do not sufficiently focus on the essential training needs. This lack of basic training for media practitioners has been linked to biased, unprofessional journalism and even safety issues and vulnerabilities for journalists.

5. Financial constraints pave the way for corruption

Despite their watchdog role, media and journalists are not always immune to corruption. Insufficient financial resources, inadequate legal frameworks and a lack of technical skills often result in bribery.

According to Transparency International, Somalia remains the most corrupt country in the world for the 10th year in a row. Journalists are often offered money to cover certain stories and because most do not have a decent salary, many take advantage of this opportunity.

6. Partisanship and polarisation still rule the news

Neutrality and objectivity are the main pillars of a journalism benefitting society. Yet, in many countries due to outer pressures it’s often not the case.

While most daily newspapers in Nepal function as professional media, after the advent of the country’s democracy, the majority of weekly newspapers remain fiercely partisan, supporting one or other political party, or even groups within a political party. This is often due to financial pressure: since media outlets receive very little advertising and are very low in circulation, they are either directly funded by the political leaders, operated by owners with political ambitions, or supported by rich allies of a political party or group.

The examples above show why World Press Freedom Day is of immense importance and a close look at the state of press freedom all over the world is still needed. Free media play a crucial role in building consensus and sharing information, both essential to democratic decision-making and to social development.

Media Landscapes are made by EJC and Free Press Unlimited partnering as part of their Strategic Partnership programme “No News is Bad News”. Additional support from the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) .

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