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Press Freedom Increasingly Under Threat – State of Play 2018

Modern Challenges to Press Freedom – M4D to speak at Info Point Panel Debate in Brussels
EUD to Ghana and M4D contribute to UNESCO WPFD Conference

Brussels, April 2018 – World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993 and is convened annually on 3 May. The day provides a platform to inform citizens of fundamental issues of press freedom, spotlight critical matters such as threats and violence against journalists, and to remind governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. It is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.

The EU Guidelines on Freedom of Expression describe actions the EU and Member States can take to support press freedom and media pluralism. Key areas for EU action most relevant for WPFD include:

-Promoting laws and practices that protect freedom of opinion and expression;

-Promoting media freedom and pluralism, and fostering an understanding among public authorities of the dangers of unwarranted interference with impartial/critical reporting.


Media Freedom

Legal restrictions on speech such as defamation, lèse-majesté, insult or blasphemy continue to threaten freedom of expression globally. National security, state of emergency and counterterrorism laws are increasingly criminalising legitimate reporting, leading to unjust penalties for journalists, human rights defenders and those critical of the government. Digitalization raises concern for journalists’ source protection and facilitates mass surveillance of citizens, threatening privacy. Concerns about the role and responsibilities of global Internet intermediaries (ICT and social media companies) are growing, creating unprecedented regulatory and policing challenges. Self-regulatory efforts to promote media literacy, tackle online abuse and counteract fake news are noticeable. Notwithstanding a growing number of countries with Access to Information laws (115)3, their effective implementation remains an area for improvement.

Media Pluralism

Access to a plurality of media platforms and content has dramatically increased, catalysed by sharing user generated content on social media. However, this trend is accompanied by the phenomenon of polarized pluralism, where groups access only a limited amount of information, creating “echo chambers” and “filter bubbles”. Almost half (48%) of the world population has access to the Internet. Women remain largely underrepresented in media, making up only 25% of media decision makers, 33% of reporters and 15% of experts interviewed.

Media Independence

Media independence is deteriorating. Polarization of public life reflects the global decline of trust in media in most regions. Political figures’ open criticism of the media encourage self-censorship and undermine media’s credibility. Business models for media, and in consequence editorial independence are challenged by digitalization, government and corporate subsidies.

Concomitantly, alternative models have emerged, such as collaborative investigative journalism, and with them, the recognition of the distinctive value of independent quality journalism in a world of online abundance.

Violence and Impunity

Harassment and intimidation of journalists are persistent. While Reporters Without Borders notes 2017 as the least deadly year for professional journalists in 14 years, figures remain alarming. Sixty-five journalists were killed in 2017, 326 are currently in prison, and 54 are held hostage. Deaths of women journalists (10) have doubled since 2016 (5). Journalists were either fatally injured in the course of their work or murdered because of their investigative reporting. Syria and Mexico are the deadliest countries for journalists.

Internet Freedoms

According to Freedom House, 2017 is the seventh consecutive year of overall decline in Internet freedom due to disinformation and manipulation tactics and rise in intentional disruptions to mobile Internet service. Last year saw a record in the number of intentional Internet shutdowns by governments for political or security reasons, often in areas populated by ethnic or religious minorities. China stays the world’s worst abuser of Internet freedom, followed by Syria and Ethiopia.

Sources of information for global trends and country specific situations: