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On 3 May 3, World Press Freedom Day, we honour the bravery of journalists who face obstacles head on, and the ingenuity they show in getting around them. But journalists themselves cannot — and should not — be press freedom’s only line of defence, writes Annie Game.

A recent documentary on the film festival circuit pays tribute to the vibrant culture of repurposing and conservation that has flourished in Madagascar in the aftermath of the global economic crisis. The film, Ady Gasy, takes its name from a common Malagasy expression meaning “Finding a way” — a reference to the spirit of resourcefulness and ingenuity that are at the heart of this culture of self-reliance.

In a climate of growing insecurity — both physical and financial — journalists, too, have become quite adept at finding a way. Finding a way to reduce their vulnerability. Finding a way to get past censors in order to publish sensitive material. Finding a way to get news stories out when governments control access to paper, printing presses or distribution networks. Finding a way to get past firewalls to access information online.

The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, “Let Journalism Thrive”, invites us to think about what elements are needed to support a healthy, free and independent press.

One of the most crucial of these is a vibrant civil society that defends and promotes these freedoms. Organisations like those in the IFEX network provide a voice for vulnerable media workers around the world, by exposing free expression violations and rallying global calls for justice.

But even with these defenders, how can a free press flourish in an environment of autocratic government, endemic corruption, and financial vulnerability?

One way that journalism continues to thrive in such difficult conditions is thanks to the resourcefulness and ingenuity shown by journalists themselves.

Reporters exploit cracks in the system to remain one step ahead of those who seek to silence them. Whether it’s getting around censorship, barriers to access, or laws set up to protect the corrupt, those who work to investigate stories and share information in the public interest have to be on their toes. Their creativity goes way beyond having a way with words, and their actions often put them at considerable risk.

These individuals are admirable, courageous — at times downright awe-inspiring — but we cannot make them the foundation for press freedom. They are not a substitute for the kind of strong, supportive systems that allow a free press to flourish. A climate where free press can truly flourish is one where all of us — ordinary people — can do our jobs.

So on World Press Freedom Day, let us honour the bravery, ingenuity and resilience of those reporters around the globe who continue to find a way to bring us crucial stories. It is important to recognise the courageous efforts of human rights and press freedom defenders who support them.

But let’s work toward a climate where journalism can thrive without relying on heroes and heroines, and without creating so many martyrs to the cause. We owe them that much.

Annie Game is the executive director of IFEX, a global network defending and promoting free expression.

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In an article entitled “Inconclusive Findings” in the Eastern Times of 16 September 2009, James Ritchie wrote:

Led by Director-General of Women’s Development Department (Jabatan Pembangunan Wanita) Dato Dr Noorul Ainur Mohd Nur, the 24-member team, which included the likes of Ivy Josiah from the Women’s Aid Organisation, Dr Prema Deveraj from the Women’s Centre for Change, a Penan geologist working with Petronas John Fery James, and officers from the Health, National Registration, Welfare, Rural Development and Education Departments, was set up….

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The Star (22 November 2007) curiously carried a piece (“Media needs to be effective”) written by one of its columnists, M. Veera Pandiyan, who lamented the apparent dilemma faced by Malaysian journalists working in the mainstream media. These, he warned, were "indeed trying days for Malaysian journalists" – in reference to the “dogged criticisms” that were hurled against the mainstream media due to their questionable and often distorted reporting.

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It’s a sign of the times when political leaders, government functionaries and, lo and behold, certain journalists consciously blur the line between the ethical and the unethical, the legal and the illegal, in a desperate attempt to win the hearts and minds of voters in the run-up to the Ijok by-election.

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