|[Source: Mstyslav Chernov]|
Those four words, shared by Finland Prime Minister Juha Sipila, summarize two days of keynote addresses and plenary sessions at this year’s World Press Freedom Day celebration in Helsinki.
Each year the event serves as an opportunity to promote a free and open press; to acknowledge the ways in which it is not; and to recognize those journalists whose lives have been lost. This year, a host of speakers and panelists from around the world offered insight regarding the current state of press freedom that does not always make it into mainstream media:
Policies and laws that prohibit encryption and weaken digital security tools will only threaten the safety of journalists. Good journalism relies on the ability to keep sources, research and whistleblowers confidential. Encryption is a necessity, not an option.
Western technologies and laws currently have the power to negatively impact the safety and security of journalists elsewhere. According to European Parliament member Marietje Schaake, surveillance technologies developed in Europe under the assumption of certain rules and regulations are frequently exported to countries where a lack of rule of law only enables the targeting and surveillance of journalists.
There is a need to pass and better implement protective legislation. Only 108 countries today have right to information laws. The last 25 years have seen an increase in legislation in countries beyond the Western world, yet implementation of such legislation remains problematic everywhere. Edetaen Ojo, executive director of Nigeria’s Media Rights Agenda, noted that laws in Africa are frequently adopted as a condition of receiving aid and therefore often exist in theory rather than in practice.
Journalism everywhere would benefit from more in-country trainings. The success and livelihood of journalists depend upon understanding one’s rights. Given that laws and policies can vary widely from country to country, state to state and region to region and also that many governments take it upon themselves to block the very information that would be most useful, in-person trainings provide a much-needed space for journalists to receive and share information and methods, argued Neela Banerjee, a journalist with Inside Climate News. Speakers at Wednesday’s “Promoting Freedom of Expression in the Arab Region” seminar expressed a further need for training in countries such as Syria, Libya, Yemen, Lebanon and South Sudan, where a lack of education combined with access to social media has contributed to the use of hate speech and the incitement of violence.
Public perception of the persecution of journalists must change. Christiane Amanpour, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Freedom of Expression and Journalist Safety, pointed out that in the majority of countries where journalists are imprisoned, the average citizen believes such punishment is just and deserved. A change in repressive government treatment of journalists will only come when non-journalist citizens believe that participating in a free and open media is not a crime.
For individuals accustomed to dictatorship, learning to freely express oneself takes time. Change is possible, but it cannot be expected to happen immediately, noted Albana Shala, chair of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication. In sharing her own experience of transitioning from living under dictatorship in Albania to democracy in the Netherlands, she said: “I’ve learned to use my right for freedom of expression and to seek information. For people who have been living in a dictatorship, it takes time for them to learn to how to breathe freely, how to speak freely, how to think freely. That is also reflected sometimes in the way we do things in life. For example, instead of seeking information through the front door, going through the back door, or instead of talking directly, talking indirectly because of the fear of being persecuted. These are things that stay with us, and these are rights that we are born with, but we are not aware of. And that is the state of the world.”
The world needs good journalists. As World Press Freedom Day 2016 concludes, let’s remember that freedom of expression and journalism trainings—not censorship—will produce the journalists that the world so desperately needs.
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