Andrew Heslop: May 3, a time to grieve, protect, and support a global press in crisis

May 03, 2024 at 09:15 am by admin

On World Press Freedom Day, WAN-IFRA calls for greater safety and protection for journalists and a revaluation of the values that safeguard a free press.

In a year marking one of the biggest tragedies for journalists on record, in which more than 100 Palestinian colleagues in Gaza have been killed in Israel’s war with Hamas, the need to protect journalists has never been more apparent – and urgent.

The burden of accessing the reliable, independent information that shapes our understanding of the world has always been that of journalists to bear. The extreme pressures and unrelenting threats they face to do so today are simply unprecedented.

The consequences reveal some of the highest death tolls ever recorded, widespread physical and digital attacks that bring untold physiological strain and trauma, crushing legal and financial repercussions, and a general environment that is against the press at every turn. How did defending the public interest and explaining how the world works get us here?

I think the answer is simple: as a society, we have become expert in undermining our own best interest, a condition that suits those with the most to lose and which can be deadly for the journalists seeking to shake us into considering it.

Covering war and conflict carries its own inherent dangers, but no two conflicts are the same for the men and women who report on them. However, between Gaza, Ukraine, and the forgotten Sudanese conflict – among numerous others – the bottom line is that journalists are targeted and increasingly, deliberately so. The intention is to shape a war on information that parallels strategic political and military objectives, making a mockery of repeated reminders that journalists are noncombatants. It has been clear for some time that they are considered fair game, and the journalism they produce a dangerous ‘weapon’ to subdue.

And most alarmingly, the same tactics extend well beyond the conflict beat into virtually every area of journalism. We are playing catch up in terms of fighting back, caught unprepared and not wanting to believe the extent and viciousness of the attacks against our profession.

Which is why we must turn to our tools, reinforce our values, and in the face of these seemingly insurmountable challenges do more, not less, of what we do best.

Our credibility and relevance relies on doing our jobs, doing them to the best of our ability, and reminding our communities – our audiences – that we serve them and their interests above all. The Santiago +30 Declaration, published during the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day celebrations in Santiago de Chile, revisits a blueprint for quality independent journalism and the responsibilities of all stakeholders in ensuring it.

Recognising each other and supporting the work being done – to defend the planet, expose war crimes, grieve with our colleagues – is equally vital. A moment to reflect, a moment for solidarity – it is what Word Press Freedom Day is for.

Sections: Columns & opinion


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