In celebration of free and responsible journalism
DIPLOMATIC POUCH (The Philippine Star) - May 2, 2019 - 12:00am

The importance of a free press to a well-functioning democracy and to the rules-based international order was underscored in 1993, when the United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 as World Press Freedom Day. Twenty-six years ago, nations from around the world came together to recognise that the public requires access to information to effectively exercise their democratic rights and that free and responsible journalism underpins good governance, equality, and poverty reduction.

Despite this recognition, media freedom remains under constant threat. Indeed, according to Freedom House, only 13 percent of the world’s population enjoys a free press. Compounding this discouraging statistic is the fact that 2018 was one of the deadliest years ever for journalists. Around the world, 99 journalists were killed, while 348 were imprisoned and 60 were held hostage.

Unfortunately, it is also increasingly common for incidents involving journalists to remain unresolved years after they have occurred. As a case in point, here in the Philippines, the Maguindanao Massacre, which involved the heinous killing of 34 journalists, remains unresolved after nearly a decade.

Regrettably, numerous examples exist of increasing legislative and practical barriers to media freedom. Journalists and media organisations are targeted and harassed, often under the thin veneer of due process, which hinders or prevents them from doing their legitimate and essential work. The collapse of traditional business models is being aggravated by the undue influence of powerful political actors, making media institutions increasingly vulnerable and limiting their capacity to work independently and in the public interest.

While technology has opened up new avenues for innovative journalism, it has also opened doors for the public to be manipulated. In this era of fake news and propaganda, supporting a free press also means countering the incoming tides of disinformation. Just as it has never been easier to publish and receive information of important public value, it has also never been easier for armies of trolls and propagandists to spread their lies and conspiracy theories – messages that pollute the public discourse with unsubstantiated and inaccurate information.

In an era where freedom of the press is under attack on all fronts, World Press Freedom Day has become more than just a day of celebration. It has become a staunch reminder of the need to uphold the highest standards of objective and fact- based journalism. It has become a day of commemoration as we remember the bravery of those who fearlessly reported on events at the expense of their own lives.

It has become a day of truth and courage as journalists continue to fight attacks on their independence and freedom.?In this context, in July this year, the UK and Canada will co-host a conference on media freedom in London. It will bring together governments, journalists, and civil society from around the world to promote media freedom and discuss effective ways to address emerging threats against it. Likewise, here in the Philippines, members of the diplomatic community will continue to support initiatives that uphold and advance free and responsible Filipino journalism.

Over the years, news reports have sparked more than just conversations. By serving as the watchdog of democracy, media has ensured that values we hold dear are protected and enhanced. Journalism plays a key role in holding the powerful to account, gives voice to the voiceless, and ensures that the fundamental principles common to free societies, principles enshrined in the Constitution of the Philippines, are properly applied – including the rule of law, protection of human rights and freedom of speech.

As we mark the 26th year since the community of nations first celebrated World Press Freedom Day, the important role that a free and responsible media plays in safeguarding our democratic rights has never been better understood. Meanwhile, emerging challenges have increased the risks that journalists face around the world and reminded us of the need to defend the essential role they play in our societies.

That is why tomorrow, as the United Nations did in 1993, we affirm our commitment to protect journalists, promote responsible reporting, and uphold media freedom across the world. (Joint article by British Ambassador Daniel Pruce,Canadian Ambassador John Holmes, and European Union Ambassador Franz Jessen.)

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