‘When the free press erodes, democratic erosion follows’


There seems little to celebrate on World Press Freedom Day, given how journalists find themselves under constant assault and press freedom is being eroded around the world, The Washington Post reports:

  • Last year was especially bleak, with some 67 journalists and media workers killed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. That figure represented a nearly 50 percent increase over the previous year’s toll.
  • The trend so far in 2023 does not look much better, with at least nine journalists killed, according to CPJ. In addition, some 570 journalists and media workers are imprisoned, while countless others face continuing physical threats and online harassment.

A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times, warned on Tuesday that “when the free press erodes, democratic erosion almost always follows.”

“All over the world, autocrats — and those who aspire to join their ranks — have used censorship, media repression and attacks on journalists to consolidate power,” he added. “That’s because gaining control of information is essential to gaining control of everything else.”

Too many Western journalists are falling for Russian media disinformation, according to Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and Steven Tian of the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute. A group of researchers led by former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and Ukrainian Presidential Advisor Andriy Yermak have put together a roadmap for further sanctions that are needed to choke Russia’s war machine, they write for TIME magazine. But the fact more work remains should not detract from the fact that sanctions and business retreats are taking a heavy toll on Russia’s economy – which is the truth no matter what media narratives spin.

The IFJ’s South Asia Press Freedom Report for 2022-2023, Pressure & Polarisation: Powering Media Resistance in South Asia, explores the complex interface between power and the fundamental human rights of press freedom and freedom of expression across the eight countries of South Asia.

“In 2023, South Asia has seen many grave threats to press freedom and democratic institutions, with government overreach, violence, and jailings marring the region’s media landscape,” said the IFJ. “Despite this, brave journalists are continuing to push back and speak out against polarisation, to tell the truth, shine a light, and defend hard-fought fundamental freedoms.”

Published with support from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the European Commission (EC), Norsk Journalistlag (NJ) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the report highlights the impact of increasing political and societal polarisation, digital disruption, and pandemic fallout on the region’s media.

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is dedicated to fostering the growth of a wide range of democratic institutions abroad, including political parties, trade unions, free markets and business organizations, as well as the many elements of a vibrant civil society that ensure human rights, independent media, and the rule of law.

“Press freedom is fundamental for democracy and remains an important focus for NED’s mission as information is being weaponized by the world’s dictators and autocrats,” said NED President and Chief Executive Officer Damon Wilson. This past year, NED awarded 51 million dollars for 430 projects across 82 countries and regions to support independent media outlets, journalists, and civil society organizations that produce accurate, fact-based information and research.

NED’s Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) has called on countries to dedicate one percent of their foreign aid budgets to media. “Independent journalism has never been so imperiled and yet so desperately needed,” said Nick Benequista, CIMA’s senior director.

Ukrainian journalist and NED Democracy Award recipient Nataliya Gumenyuk (above) joins international lawyer Ibrahim Olabi to speak about the work of The Reckoning Project: Ukraine Testifies. Three short documentaries produced by The Reckoning will be followed by a Q&A moderated by David Knowles, host of The Telegraph’s Ukraine: The Latest podcast. Tickets: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/…/reporting-on-russian-war…

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