In an ever-changing media landscape, the threats confronting journalism have reached unprecedented levels. These challenges were the focal point of discussions among experts at the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day 2023 event in New York on May 3rd.
Author: Anne Riziki | 18. May 2023
Mira Milosevic (GFMD), Jodie Ginsberg (CPJ), Professor Seong-Phil Hong (High-Level Legal Panel on Media Freedom) and Peter Noorlander (Reporters Shield) engaged in an enlightening dialogue moderated by Omar Jimenez (CNN) on press freedom, the threats to journalists, and the future of the media. Their diverse perspectives shed light on the complex challenges faced by journalists worldwide.
Watch the discussion here:
Long-term mechanisms for emergency media assistance
Mira Milosevic, Executive Director of the Global Forum on Media Development, drew attention to the intricate challenges of advancing media development in crisis-ridden contexts such as Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Myanmar. She emphasized that GFMD has been actively engaging with its members, partners, and journalists worldwide, recognizing that we no longer face isolated crises but an ongoing, interconnected state of crisis and emergency. This reality extends beyond conflict zones to countries grappling with challenges posed by authoritarian or non-democratic governments, where journalism’s sustainability crisis persists.
“How are we as an international community, as governments as UNESCO, OECD, Media Freedom Coalition equipped to address these challenges that are not anymore, one-off and unique?” Mira Milosevic questioned.
She added that while immediate safety concerns and legal threats faced by journalists are being addressed, there is a lack of long-term support for those forced to evacuate from conflict zones or operating in exile. Collaboration is essential to developing proactive mechanisms that ensure preparedness for future crises and safeguard the well-being and sustainability of journalists and institutions.
Delving deeper into the challenges confronting journalism, Mira highlighted the difficulties of forming coalitions and acquiring funding to shape the future of the media. In a world where even fundamental information lacks universal consensus, navigating these hurdles becomes increasingly intricate. She shed light on two critical issues that demand immediate attention:
Firstly, the sustainability of journalism is at risk due to the absence of a stable business model.
Secondly, the mounting challenges faced by journalists lack effective mechanisms to address and connect them cohesively.
Ensuring journalists’ safety goes beyond addressing immediate threats; it requires creating an enabling environment for them to continue their work.
Startling reports also reveal that between 2017 and 2022, approximately 20% of non-conflict zone journalists were targeted by disinformation campaigns, as documented in business stories. Furthermore, a report by UNESCO and ICFJ emphasizes that 70% of online violence, primarily directed at female journalists, escalates to physical violence. Project Oasis’s recent findings indicate that around 60% of journalists worldwide have experienced online violence. Complicating matters, major companies lack established mechanisms to identify credible and ethical journalists online, posing a significant challenge. Despite these pressing dilemmas, ongoing initiatives within the media community are tirelessly striving to overcome these obstacles and achieve shared objectives.
Principles and standards to support journalism.
From left to right; Peter Noorlander (Reporters Shield), Omar Jimenez (CNN), Professor Seong-Phil Hong (High-Level Legal Panel on Media Freedom), Mira Milosevic (GFMD) and Jodie Ginsberg (CPJ).
During the panel discussions, participants shared key recommendations regarding the effective promotion of an environment that protects journalists’ practice and upholds freedom of expression. Collaborative work on preparing the principles and standards for supporting journalism that works in this new age of crisis and emergency that is ongoing is crucial. In particular, Mira Milosevic stressed the need to increase investment in supporting journalists, as the current allocation from international aid budgets is less than 0.3%. Redefining principles and standards for journalism support in this era of crisis and emergency require collaboration with institutions like the OECD and UNESCO.
Another notable recommendation came from Professor Seong-Phil Hong, a Member of the High-Level Legal Panel on Media Freedom, who stressed the importance of distinguishing different situations and adapting approaches accordingly.
“I think it’s very important to make a distinction between the situations and scenarios of situations where it’s thought underrepresented in the repressive regimes in the detention area, and things are getting worse,” he highlighted.
Professor Seong-Phil Hong emphasized the need for contextual understanding when securing the release of imprisoned journalists, urging careful consideration and discretion in tailoring approaches to each scenario. This need for contextual awareness is particularly vital in democracies and societies with greater freedoms, where instances of violations and imprisonments persist. It is in these circumstances that innovative approaches and responses become necessary to effectively seek the release of individuals and safeguard their journalistic work. Every situation requires thoughtful evaluation and discretion in our actions to ensure the best possible outcomes.
“We must create an enabling environment that fosters pluralistic media and secures funding for independent journalism,” she stated.
This will enable journalists to operate without undue influence or interference, preserving the fundamental principles of press freedom and empowering them to fulfil their essential role in society.
Challenges to journalists’ safety
Another critical question unmasking the daunting charges imposed on journalists (sedition, treason, espionage etc.) was posed by Peter Noorlander, Director of Reporters Shield’s startup. How can journalists proactively prepare for such situations and navigate the challenges posed by these charges? He recommended building networks, providing legal support, and comprehensive training for journalists and lawyers to minimize the risk of lawsuits and navigate legal challenges.
Noorlander emphasized that the goal is to provide journalism organizations with a sense of security and reassurance. When facing legal challenges, knowing that they have competent legal representation can make a significant difference. It can be easier for journalists to navigate the complexities of legal battles when they have strong defence mechanisms and support networks, such as the Reporters Shield membership program.
Reporters Shield is a membership program that defends investigative reporting around the world from legal threats meant to silence critical voices. The program is for media outlets and NGOs that report in the public interest.
With the rise of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) in recent years, journalists face mounting risks of costly and potentially devastating legal battles.
Aligned with the event’s theme, the Austrian delegation underscored the vital role of a free, independent, and pluralistic media in democratic societies. They highlighted Austria’s commitment to protecting freedom of expression and shared successful efforts in revitalizing the UN Plan of Action on the safety of journalists.
“The safety of journalists, as well as unhindered access to information are essential for the realization of the universal inalienable right to freedom of expression and of the media. And, of course, Austria remains fully committed to this cause. We must take action wherever we can to strengthen media freedom,” stated the delegate.
The discussion serves as a valuable resource for understanding the challenges faced by journalists worldwide. It reminds us that our collective efforts must be sustained, proactive, and innovative. By joining forces and addressing these challenges head-on, we can create an environment that upholds press freedom, supports journalists, and ensures the continued vitality of the media in our society.
To find out first about GFMD’s latest media support activities join our growing community by signing up for MediaDev Insider – which is read by over 3,000 leaders in media development and journalism support all over the world!