Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | At a time when disinformation and mistrust of the news media is growing, a free press is essential for peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said.
According to Guterres, no democracy is complete without access to transparent and reliable information. He described unfettered journalism as “the cornerstone for building fair and impartial institutions, holding leaders accountable and speaking truth to power.”
This is contained in his message for the World Press Freedom Day, marked on May 3, every year. The day is used to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, to evaluate press freedom around the world and to defend the media from attacks on their independence. It is also a moment to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.
This year’s commemorations which began on Thursday across the world are focusing on the powerful role that good reporting plays in championing democracy and free election when disinformation is becoming a larger problem in even the world’s oldest and most sophisticated democratic systems.
“Facts, not falsehoods, should guide people as they choose their representatives”, said the UN chief, noting that while technology has transformed the ways in which we receive and share information, sometimes it is used to mislead public opinion or to fuel violence and hatred.
Guterres said he was deeply troubled by the growing number of attacks against media workers and the culture of impunity among perpetrators of such attacks.
According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), almost 100 journalists were killed going about their work in 2018, with hundreds imprisoned. A total of 1,307 journalists were killed between 1994, and last year.
The head of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, said in her message for the day that it was essential to guarantee freedom of opinion through the free exchange of ideas and information, based on factual truths. She said societies which value a free press, needed to constantly be vigilant and act together to protect the freedom of expression and safety of journalists.
“At a time of growing discourse of mistrust and delegitimization of the press and journalism, it is essential that we guarantee freedom of opinion through the free exchange of ideas and information based on factual truths.
UNESCO’s media services Chief George Papagiannis says that this year’s World Press Freedom Day is looking at the important role that journalism plays in in times of disinformation. This is the emphasis of a new campaign; dubbed Defend Journalism, which is based on a belief that Free and independent media produces journalism that debunks falsehoods, uses verified sources and counters disinformation.
According to Papagiannis, a free media is a prerequisite for the proper functioning of democracies and that a vibrant media and independent journalism should provide an opportunity for practitioners to present facts to citizens to form an opinion. He says that communities must defend journalists against attacks that are threatening to diminish their role.