World Press Freedom Day, which is celebrated on 3 May every year, was first proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993. It is a day which is used to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, mourn its loss in some really hostile regimes, and pay tribute to all those media professionals who have lost their lives in the line of duty, and in pursuit of the truth. It is also a day of advocacy – a day to engage with governments on the issues of media pluralism and independence, and the safety of journalists.
So, how do we (South Africa) rank in terms of press freedom?
Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based media outfit, has been publishing its index since 2002. This index documents the state of press freedom in 180 countries around the world. At #32, we have a better ranking than both the United Kingdom (#33), and the United States of America (#42), and there are only three African countries – Namibia, Cape Verde and Ghana – with a better ranking than ours. Still, we’re in the first half (1-90), and at #32, we’re marginally outside the first third of that better half. Not too shabby, at all.
The Top 10 is a predominantly European affair, dominated by four Nordic countries, but gate-crashed by Costa Rica, New Zealand and Jamaica. Jamaica!! Seriously? Yes, and there goes that well-worn, worked-to-death stereotype... “It’s a black country; where else do you expect it to go?” Well, in its case, it’s definitely upwards. And, yes, there’s a good reason for that: Jamaica’s ultra-chilled, press-friendly status is the direct result of one substance, and one substance only – reggae. But you knew that all along, didn’t you?
At the other end of the spectrum, there’s Eritrea (#180), a fiercely repressive autocracy. Its president – according to a June 2016 UN report – is attributed to have said: “Those who think there will be democracy in this country can think so in another world.” Clearly, President Issayas Afeworki has no plans to loosen his grip.
This year, the theme for World Press Freedom Day, “Journalism under Digital Siege”, draws serious attention to the many digital threats journalists face, such as hate speech, disinformation, fake news, arbitrary surveillance and online attacks via social media. And according to UNESCO's website, it “demands responses from all concerned stakeholders”. Yes, that includes you, as well.
Finally, to all those courageous media professionals out there, and the not-so-courageous ones, as well – have a great World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2022, and stay safe out there.
Vinoo Nydoo - Teacher, Durban, South Africa
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