World Press Freedom Day and the Importance of Journalism in a Global Society

Audrey Azoulay, Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), addresses the World Press Freedom Conference 2020 entitled “Journalism without Fear or Favour”. The focus of the World Press Freedom Conference 2020 is on successes in enhancing professional journalism and its foundation on independent news media institutions operating in a safe environment.

Freedom of the press is widely considered the cornerstone of democracy, yet reporters and media outlets frequently face attacks from all sides of the political spectrum and from every corner of the globe. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) found that at least 387 reporters were detained or held hostage and 50 were killed in 2020 because of their work—the lowest number in a decade only because of restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic. 2012 was the worst year in recent memory, with 147 reporter deaths. 

UNESCO reports that a journalist has lost their life an average of every four days in the past decade. Despite assumptions that journalists are in greatest danger in war zones, investigations have found that in recent years, more reporters die in countries at peace, and that 84% of the murdered reporters were deliberately targeted because of stories they were developing or had recently released. The single most dangerous beat a reporter can cover is a corruption case. 

In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly declared the 3rd of May to be World Press Freedom Day. This is a day that “celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom,” and provides us an opportunity “to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.” 

Freedom of press is jeopardized not only when reporters are targeted but also when the public’s right of access to information is threatened. Press freedom is closely correlated to other civil liberties as an indicator for everything from women and minority rights to environmental degradation levels to expected lifespan. A robust, independent press is a sign of a healthy democracy, but according to Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World report, Press Freedom fell to its lowest point in a decade in 2019, and restrictions on free press are accelerating globally. 

One of the greatest threats to an independent media is the conglomeratization of news outlets, which is when companies buy up dozens of local newspapers and news networks in order to dictate what news is delivered. As of 2016, five corporations controlled 37% of local news media in the United States. This media consolidation results in more disinformation and less diverse points of view. The best way to combat this issue is to subscribe to locally owned newspapers and advocate for legislation to protect an independent press. Even simply interacting with local news stations’ websites and social media posts can make a difference. And remember, always verify sources before posting (mis)information online.

Here at AMUN, we believe in the transparency of ideas and processes, which is why the International Press Delegation simulation has been around since day one. Not only does IPD create a more realistic experience for other simulations at AMUN, but it also allows participants the opportunity to learn the effects of well-written coverage on international debate. And the best part of all? IPD articles are all written in-house.

As we recognize World Press Freedom Day, we acknowledge the importance of journalists, both to AMUN and to the real world. 

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