Free, uncensored, independent press – a cornerstone of democratic societies

We must demand that journalists' rights are respected, protected and fulfilled

Michele Bachelet - UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferre

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s statement on World Press Freedom Day recently:

A free, uncensored and independent press is a cornerstone of democratic societies. It can bring life-saving information in moments of crises, provide a basis for public participation, and help ensure accountability and respect for human rights.

World Press Freedom Day is an opportunity to celebrate this fundamental work – especially, as we mark the 30th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration, in which a group of African journalists set out key principles for press freedom.

The Covid crisis has made it clearer that critical reporting on government policies or public figures is all too often met with prosecution. Laws adopted or applied to restrict and criminalise disinformation during the pandemic have also been used by states to target journalists.

Around the world, people have increasingly taken to the streets to demand their economic and social rights, as well as an end to discrimination and systemic racism, impunity and corruption. Journalists fulfilling their fundamental role of reporting on these social protests have intolerably become targets. Many have been victims of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by law enforcement, arbitrary arrests and criminal prosecution.

Attacks, arrests and the criminal prosecution of a journalist has an additional chilling effect of dissuading other journalists from critically reporting on relevant issues. In this way, they impoverish public debate and hamper our ability to respond effectively to societal challenges, including the Covid pandemic.

The work of journalists and media workers will be crucial for the world to recover better from the devastation of this crisis. Objective, trusted, fact-checked news will counter disinformation, help ensure resilient and sustainable solutions to current challenges, demand transparency and accountability, and foster trust in institutions.

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Contributing to humanity’s wellbeing, accurate information is a public good. The silencing of a journalist is a loss to society as a whole.

To fully celebrate the bravery of journalists in their determination to keep the public informed, we must demand that their rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. – UN Human Rights

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