Journalists harassed, imprisoned or killed around the world: international organizations and media were alarmed on Tuesday at threats to press freedom on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Day which celebrates it.
In this context, UNESCO awarded its 2023 World Press Freedom Prize on Tuesday evening to three imprisoned Iranian journalists. Elaheh Mohammadi and Niloufar Hamedi, who helped publicize the death in custody of Mahsa Amini in September, and human rights activist Narges Mohammadi.
“I come from a country, Iran, where being a journalist is a crime,” journalist and women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad, who lives in the United States, denounced during a conference organized by UNESCO at the UN headquarters in New York for the thirtieth anniversary of International Press Freedom Day. “I come from a country where being a journalist, a citizen journalist, can send you to prison, have you killed, have you tortured”.
“Freedom of the press is the lifeblood of human rights. But all over the world, freedom of the press is under attack,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in a video message.
“Journalists and media workers are being directly targeted online and off while doing their vital work. They are daily harassed, intimidated, arrested, imprisoned,” he lamented.
Although he did not mention any name or country, other speakers highlighted individual situations, such as that of the American journalist from the Wall Street Journal Evan Gershkovich, detained in Russia on espionage charges which he rejects.
“The fight for freedom of the press, the fight for the release of Evan, is a fight for the freedom of all”, insisted the director of the publication of the “WSJ”, Almar Latour.
And despite the risks, “we can’t stop reporting what’s happening in the world,” he pleaded. “There’s probably no better response to autocracies trying to crush and belittle journalism than to deliver great journalism to the world.”
Beyond harassment and arrests, according to Reporters Without Borders, 55 journalists and 4 media collaborators were killed in the line of duty in 2022 worldwide.
An “unacceptable” situation, insisted the Director General of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay, stressing that many of these journalists are killed “in their homes, often in front of their families”.
– “Avalanche” of misinformation –
And if for 30 years, progress has been made, particularly in terms of laws guaranteeing access to information, she estimated, “we also need a lot of lucidity, nothing is certain, well opposite”.
“The advance of the digital age is changing the entire information landscape,” she warned, stressing that in this context, “we need (journalists) more than ever.”
Because “the truth is threatened by disinformation and hate speech, which seek to blur the lines between fact and fiction, between science and conspiracy,” added Antonio Guterres.
The UN Secretary General also expressed concern “about the increasing concentration of the media industry in the hands of a few and the bankruptcy of many independent media”.
“Technology, which has given journalists the ability to reach people anywhere, has undermined the news business model,” New York Times publishing director AG Sulzberger insisted, describing in parallel the “avalanche of misinformation, propaganda, commentary, hyped content on the internet that overwhelms the information ecosystem, drowning out our credible journalism”.
“When the free press wanes, democratic erosion almost always follows. And unsurprisingly, this period of press weakness coincides with the destabilization of democracies and the emboldening of autocracies,” he said.
“Unfortunately, censorship has become the default position of many governments to control what society knows and bend it to their will,” commented Agnès Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International.