#WorldPressFreedomDayMonday, May 03, 2021
The month of May is known for many international days, among them is World Press Freedom Day. (WPFD). This was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of the United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO)'s General Conference. Since then, May 3, the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek is celebrated worldwide.
After 30 years, the historic connection made between the freedom to seek, impart, and receive information and the public good remains as relevant as it was at the time of its signing. Special commemorations of the 30th anniversary are planned to take place during WPFD International Conference.
May 3 acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. It is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. It is an opportunity to celebrate the fundamentals of press freedom; assess the state of press freedom throughout the world; defend the media from attacks on their independence; and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) eight journalists have been killed in the line of duty since the start of 2021. WPFD this year has added significance as the pandemic has made the work of journalists who are front-line workers more challenging.
According to the United Nations this year's WPFD theme 'Information as a Public Good' serves as a call to affirm the importance of cherishing information and exploring what can be done in the production, distribution and reception of content to strengthen journalism, and to advance transparency and empowerment while leaving no one behind.
The UN added that the the theme is of urgent relevance to all countries across the world. It recognises the changing communications system that is impacting on our health, our human rights, democracies, and sustainable development. During the complete month of May in Cambodia, UNESCO and its partners will organise over social media a series of events to recognise the vital role that journalists play in our society and to generate discussions on the importance of free and independent media in providing the public with reliable, timely, and trustworthy information.
The 2021 World Press Freedom Index shows that journalism, the main vaccine against disinformation, is completely or partly blocked in 73 per cent of the 180 countries ranked by RSF. Norway is ranked first for the fifth year. Finland maintained its position in second place, while Sweden recovered its third position and Denmark is ranked at fourth. Jamaica slipped one place on the Global Press Freedom Index and now ranks seventh among 180 countries that most respect press freedom. RSF noted that, “Jamaican officials drew criticism at the start of the pandemic when Government restrictions were seen as prohibiting journalists from doing their work at a time when there was a strong need for accurate reporting.”
The lowest-ranking countries were Eritrea, North Korea, Turkmenistan, China, Djibouti, Vietnam, Iran, Syria, Laos, and Cuba. Those countries ranked lowest on the index tend to have authoritarian leadership and State-controlled media.
The UN states the COVID-19 crisis has placed journalists and quality journalism and public interest media once again at the centre of the global discourse. Reporting on the crisis, through initiatives such as the popularisation of scientific facts, the compilation and frequent updating of data, fact-checking or monitoring spending have proved vital. Around the world the pandemic has forced the closure of media houses, reporters have been harassed and attacked for their reporting on the handling of the pandemic, and the public has struggled to discern verified information from the falsehoods that have flooded the Internet. UNESCO calls on all partners, to renew their commitment to the fundamental right to freedom of expression, to defend media workers, and to ensure that information remains a public good.
An independent media plays a critical role in holding public officials to account. The media provides a framework for good governance and transparency and thus facilitate greater participation for the citizenry. Jamaica has come a far way in terms of press freedom; let us build on the gains of those journalists who have sacrificed as we thrive for a collective and unified Fourth Estate.
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