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International Day of the Girl Child
by UN human rights experts
States around the world must take effective action to end discrimination and gender-based violence faced by girls, say a group of UN rights experts*. In a joint statement to mark International Day of the Girl Child, the experts say prompt action is needed so that girls can become full participants in all aspects of life. It is essential, they argue, to protect the progress already made and keep up the momentum for a world in which girls enjoy full equality:
“Harmful stereotypes and prejudices relating to age and gender too often hold girls back and place them in harm’s way. We must recognise the unique circumstances and challenges faced by girls everywhere and do more to ensure that their human rights are achieved, while empowering them to grow as active participants in communities and societies.
Through the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 1 (no poverty), Goal 4 (quality education), Goal 5 (gender equality), Goal 8 (decent work), and Goal 16 (peace and justice) the global community has committed itself to creating a world where girls can grow up free from discrimination and gender-based violence, where their gender and age will not be a barrier to equal opportunity and empowerment at all levels. However, these commitments continue to be unfulfilled, and there is a danger of regression, leaving too many girls behind.
All around the world, girls are denied equality in education, in health, in cultural life, in their families and in their communities, in ways that limit their choices and their opportunities. According to UNICEF, girls have lower literacy rates, receive less health care, and are more impoverished than boys.
Too many countries around the world maintain laws that discriminate against girls in matters like inheritance and the legal age of marriage. Too many families and communities persist in harmful practices like child marriage, menstrual seclusion and female genital mutilation.
Everywhere in the world girls are still too often subjected to gender-based violence and may become victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation as in forms of forced marriage, sexual slavery, prostitution, and forced pregnancy. In the contexts of conflict, post-conflict and humanitarian crisis situations, girls seeking to survive are often compelled to exchange sexual services and even “marry” for food, shelter, protection or safe passage.
Girls are often also expected to do more housework and to provide unpaid care for relatives. They may also be expected to work outside the home from a young age to support their families. When families find themselves in situations of need and hunger, girls are often the first to suffer. This early inequality within their family homes deprives girls of opportunities and puts them at a systematic disadvantage that continues throughout their lifetimes, limiting their access to food, to housing, to land, to education, to employment, and to the life that they would choose to craft for themselves.
Today, there are more girls in school than ever before, but one out of every five adolescent girls is still out of school. Too often, forced and/or early marriage or early pregnancy is a barrier to girls’ schooling. Girls must have full access to quality education, including to comprehensive education on sexuality and contraceptive information and services, in order to ensure their full development and to later facilitate their full access to employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.
Many of the challenges faced by girls are rooted in outdated and harmful perceptions about gender roles and what is ‘appropriate’ behaviour for young women, strongly influenced by patriarchal culture. Too often States misuse references to culture, religion, family and tradition in order to avoid fulfilling their human rights obligations to girls.
Too often, girl survivors of trafficking, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence face discrimination and stigma from their families and wider community, which may make them vulnerable to being re-trafficked, further stalling their social inclusion.
As States and the global community work to end these human rights violations, they should consider girls as agents and ensure that they participate actively in finding and implementing solutions.
Too often, girls face double discrimination that seeks to silence them and portray them as weak and powerless, but girls around the world are strong, brave, smart and capable. We must listen to what they have to say, give them opportunities to succeed, and must respect, protect and fulfil their human rights.”
* UN experts: Ms. Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Ms. Koumbou Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Mr. Dainius Puras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Mr. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Ms. Maud De Boer-Buquicchio, Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children; Ms. Urmila Bhoola, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Ms. Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Ms. Dubravka Simonovic, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Ms. Elizabeth Broderick, Ms. Alda Facio, Ms. Ivana Radacic (Chair), Ms. Meskerem Geset Techane (Vice Chair), Ms. Melissa Upreti, Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice.
# The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.
http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/girl-child http://uni.cf/1lVmxcD http://www.un.org/en/events/girlchild/resources.shtml http://www.unfpa.org/news
* Visit the link below for more details on Human Rights issues from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
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350 US newspapers issue coordinated rebuke of Donald Trump for attacks on press
by RSF, CPJ, OHCHR, PEN, agencies
October 16, 2018
Today PEN America, represented by the nonpartisan nonprofit Protect Democracy and the Yale Law School Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic, filed a lawsuit in federal court against the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump. The suit seeks to stop President Trump from using the machinery of government to retaliate or threaten reprisals against journalists and media outlets for coverage he dislikes.
President Trump’s tirades against the press are not new. His cries of “fake news” are an almost daily occurrence. The White House has called for individual journalists to be fired, and the president has referred to the media as “the enemy of the American people.”
This has created an environment of hostility toward the media wherein journalists have been subject to death threats, needed bodyguards to cover political rallies, and have faced attacks in their newsrooms. The president has also threatened book publishers and authors who have published critical volumes.
While many media outlets are unrelenting in their robust coverage, individual writers may think twice before publishing pieces or commentary that could put them in the White House’s crosshairs.
As you know, over the last 18 months PEN America has been doing research, reporting, advocacy, outreach events, and more to spotlight and call out the president’s assaults on writers and journalists.
Yet most of the president’s verbal attacks on the press are speech that is protected under the First Amendment. Our country’s broad protections for free speech allow the president to denigrate the press and even go after individual journalists by name. However, when President Trump crosses the line and threatens to use his authority to punish the media, or actually does so, it is vital for the courts to step in and affirm that such threats and reprisals are unconstitutional.
We have worked closely with leading First Amendment scholars and practitioners in private practice and academia in order to hone a request to the court to do just that. http://pen.org/pen-america-v-trump/
White House Correspondents’ Association - Statement on President’s Remarks in Montana
All Americans should recoil from the president’s praise for a violent assault on a reporter doing his Constitutionally protected job. This amounts to the celebration of a crime by someone sworn to uphold our laws and an attack on the First Amendment by someone who has solemnly pledged to defend it. We should never shrug at the president cheerleading for a violent act targeting a free and independent news media. -Olivier Knox, President, White House Correspondents’ Association
The British government has joined press freedom advocates and journalists in expressing dismay and disgust with Donald Trump’s remarks at a rally, where he praised the unprovoked assault on a Guardian US journalist by the state’s congressman, Greg Gianforte.
At the Republican rally in Montana on Thursday night, the president lauded and made jokes about the violent attack by Gianforte, when he was a candidate, on the Guardian’s political reporter Ben Jacobs in 2017.
A spokeswoman for the British prime minister, Theresa May, when asked about the president’s remarks, said on Friday: “Any violence or intimidation against a journalist is completely unacceptable.”
Journalists across the US launched into fierce criticism of the congressman, via social media.
“Gianforte is a criminal. He pled guilty to assault. The president is congratulating a criminal on committing a crime,” said the New York Times correspondent Binyamin Appelbaum on Twitter.
Trump’s comments “mark the first time the president has openly and directly praised a violent act against a journalist on American soil,” added the New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg.
Katharine Viner, the editor-in-chief of the Guardian, said on Friday: “At a time when reporters around the world are being harassed, arrested and even murdered these are incredibly irresponsible comments, which fly in the face of press freedom and send a dangerous message to autocrats and dictators around the world.”
She added: “The world’s press would welcome a clear statement from the US government that it remains committed to the rights of journalists everywhere to do their work without fear of violence or repression.”
16 Aug. 2018
350 US newspapers issue coordinated rebuke of Donald Trump for attacks on press. (Reuters/AP)
350 US newspapers have launched a coordinated defence of press freedom and a rebuke of Donald Trump for denouncing media organisations as enemies of the American people. All of the newspapers ran editorials.
"A central pillar of President Trump''s politics is a sustained assault on the free press," said the editorial by the Boston Globe, which coordinated publication among more than 350 newspapers.
"The greatness of America is dependent on the role of a free press to speak the truth to the powerful.. To label the press ''the enemy of the people'' is as un-American as it is dangerous to the civic compact we have shared for more than two centuries."
The first amendment of the US constitution guarantees freedom of the press.
The Portland (Maine) Press-Herald said a free and independent press was the best defence against tyranny, while the Honolulu Star-Advertiser emphasised democracy''s need for a free press.
"The true enemies of the people — and democracy — are those who try to suffocate truth by vilifying and demonising the messenger," wrote the Des Moines Register in Iowa.
In St Louis, the Post-Dispatch called journalists "the truest of patriots".
The Chicago Sun-Times said it believed most Americans knew Mr Trump was talking nonsense.
The Fayetteville Observer said it hoped Mr Trump would stop, "but we''re not holding our breath".. "Rather, we hope all the President''s supporters will recognise what he''s doing — manipulating reality to get what he wants," the North Carolina newspaper said.
Mr Trump has frequently criticised journalists and described news reports that contradict his opinions or policy positions as fake news.
In its editorial, the New York Times wrote there was nothing wrong with being critical of the media but said there was a line.
"Insisting that truths you don''t like are ''fake news'' is dangerous to the lifeblood of democracy. And calling journalists the ''enemy of the people'' is dangerous, period."
The US Senate unanimously adopted a resolution on Thursday, affirming the "vital and indispensable role" played by the news media and declared, "the press is not the enemy of the people".
Trump attacks on media violate basic norms of press freedom, human rights experts say. (OHCHR)
UN and Inter-American experts on freedom of expression have condemned U.S. President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on the free press and urged him and his administration to cease efforts to undermine the media’s role of holding government accountable, honest and transparent.
“His attacks are strategic, designed to undermine confidence in reporting and raise doubts about verifiable facts,” said David Kaye and Edison Lanza, the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression for the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, respectively.
The President has labelled the media as being the “enemy of the American people” “very dishonest” or “fake news,” and accused the press of “distorting democracy” or spreading “conspiracy theories and blind hatred”.
“These attacks run counter to the country’s obligations to respect press freedom and international human rights law,” the experts said. “We are especially concerned that these attacks increase the risk of journalists being targeted with violence.”
Kaye and Lanza said that, over the course of his presidency, Mr. Trump and others within his administration have sought to undermine reporting that had uncovered waste, fraud, abuse, potential illegal conduct, and disinformation.
“Each time the President calls the media ‘the enemy of the people’ or fails to allow questions from reporters from disfavoured outlets,” the experts added, “he suggests nefarious motivations or animus. But he has failed to show even once that specific reporting has been driven by any untoward motivations.
“It is critical that the U.S. administration promote the role of a vibrant press and counter rampant disinformation. To this end, we urge President Trump not only to stop using his platform to denigrate the media but to condemn these attacks, including threats directed at the press at his own rallies.. “We stand with the independent media in the United States, a community of journalists and publishers and broadcasters long among the strongest examples of professional journalism worldwide. We especially urge the press to continue, where it does so, its efforts to hold all public officials accountable.”
The experts encouraged all media to act in solidarity against the efforts of President Trump to favour some outlets over others. “Two years of attacks on the press could have long term negative implications for the public’s trust in media and public institutions,” Kaye and Lanza said. “Two years is two years too much, and we strongly urge that President Trump and his administration and his supporters end these attacks.” http://bit.ly/2KmNiqb
* (In July, A.G. Sulzberger, Publisher of The New York Times met with Donald Trump at the Whitehouse. Following Mr. Trump’s subsequent tweets, Mr. Sulzberger decided to respond to the president’s characterization of their conversation).
Statement of A.G. Sulzberger, Publisher, The New York Times:
''My main purpose for accepting the meeting was to raise concerns about the president’s deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric. I told the president directly that I thought that his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous.
I told him that although the phrase “fake news” is untrue and harmful, I am far more concerned about his labeling journalists “the enemy of the people.” I warned that this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence.
I repeatedly stressed that this is particularly true abroad, where the president’s rhetoric is being used by some regimes to justify sweeping crackdowns on journalists. I warned that it was putting lives at risk, that it was undermining the democratic ideals of our nation, and that it was eroding one of our country’s greatest exports: a commitment to free speech and a free press.. I implored him to reconsider his broader attacks on journalism, which I believe are dangerous and harmful to our country and the world''.
* The Boston Globe: The liberty of the press is essential to the security of freedom: http://bit.ly/2MNbKDf NYT: http://nyti.ms/2nFMdkn Politico: http://politi.co/2nIlu6Y
* The Washington Post reports President Trump has made 4,229 false or misleading claims in the last 558 days: http://wapo.st/2MbOxug http://wapo.st/2Aq2AZI
* Joel Rosenthal, President of the Carnegie Council on Mr. Trump’s Assault on Ethics: http://bit.ly/2L2e9bG
Rising Hostility to Media threatens Real Democracy, Emma Daly. (Human Rights Watch)
“Enemy of the people” is how more than 50 percent of Republicans see the media, according to a US poll. Two reporters are detained in Myanmar for investigating a massacre, one of two independent daily newspapers in Hungary closes, and in Afghanistan, nine journalists are killed covering a bombing. Animosity toward journalists is growing worldwide as we mark World Press Freedom Day.
Governments the world over want to control the media – without an inconveniently free press, officials find it easier to do what they want. They can claim almost 100 percent literacy rates, squander national assets on mansions abroad, forcibly disappear opponents, and hide infectious disease outbreaks or critical health data.
There are many ways to suppress the media, all of which encourage self-censorship. Dozens of countries jail journalists on dubious grounds of protecting national security, with Turkey atop this dismal league. Others use overbroad laws to silence criticism, including imprisoning journalists and bloggers for “defamation” which resulted in a Myanmar poet being jailed after writing, “On my manhood rests a tattooed/portrait of Mr President.”
In many countries it’s unlawful to insult the leadership, be it the president, the king, the “father of the nation,” or the military.
Singapore bans “scandalizing the judiciary” and Bahrain punishes “offending a foreign country.” Bureaucratic tactics also include burdensome regulations on pesky outlets and threats to withhold government advertising or limit license approvals. The countries with the tightest media controls are North Korea and Eritrea, say press freedom groups.
If legalistic strategies don’t work, governments try threats, violence, imprisonment, or murder.
We know autocrats target the media; what’s especially disturbing today is that democratically elected leaders are following suit. US President Donald Trump’s expressed disdain for the media is so severe that press freedom groups created the US Press Freedom Tracker to monitor legal and physical threats facing journalists in the land of the First Amendment, which reads “Congress shall make no law.. abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
Trump’s characterization of any reporting he doesn’t like as “fake news” has been seized upon and echoed by authoritarian circles in Syria, Venezuela, Libya, Somalia, and beyond. The Russian Foreign Ministry has a “fake news” web page that denounces critical foreign coverage and promotes conspiracy theories about “the Western media.” Malaysia has just convicted the first person charged under its new “fake news” law.
It’s not only in war zones and dictatorships that journalists take risks to hold those in power to account. And independent media are fundamental not only to a well-functioning democracy, but to anyone who wants to know whether tap water is safe for your kids to drink, if veterans are getting proper medical care, if the women in your life face sexual harassment at work or sexual assault on campus, or if the land you live on has been poisoned by industry. So today, stand up for a free press. http://bit.ly/2Ioq7Pw
The 2018 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), reflects growing animosity towards journalists.
Hostility towards the media, openly encouraged by political leaders, and the efforts of authoritarian regimes to export their vision of journalism pose a threat to democracies.
The climate of animosity is steadily more visible in the Index, which evaluates the level of press freedom in 180 countries each year.
Hostility towards the media from political leaders is no longer limited to authoritarian countries such as Turkey (down two at 157th) and Egypt (161st), where “media-phobia” is now so pronounced that journalists are routinely accused of terrorism and all those who don’t offer loyalty are arbitrarily imprisoned.
More and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion.
The United States, the country of the First Amendment, has fallen again in the Index under Donald Trump, this time two places to 45th. A media-bashing enthusiast, Trump has referred to reporters “enemies of the people,” the term once used by Joseph Stalin.
The line separating verbal violence from physical violence is dissolving. In the Philippines (down six at 133rd), President Rodrigo Duterte not only constantly insults reporters but has also warned them that they “are not exempted from assassination.”
In India (down two at 138th), hate speech targeting journalists is shared and amplified on social networks, often by troll armies in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP Hindu nationalist party. In each of these countries, at least four journalists were gunned down in cold blood in the space of a year.
Verbal violence from politicians against the media is also on the rise in Europe, although it is the region that respects press freedom most.
In the Czech Republic (down 11 at 34th), President Milos Zeman turned up at a press conference with a fake Kalashnikov inscribed with the words “for journalists.” In Slovakia, (down 10 at 27th), then Prime Minister Robert Fico called journalists “filthy anti-Slovak prostitutes” and “idiotic hyenas.”
A Slovak reporter, Ján Kuciak, was shot dead in his home in February 2018, just four months after another European journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, was killed by a targeted car-bombing in Malta (down 18 at 65th).
“The unleashing of hatred towards journalists is one of the worst threats to democracies,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Political leaders who fuel loathing for reporters bear heavy responsibility because they undermine the concept of public debate based on facts instead of propaganda. To dispute the legitimacy of journalism today is to play with extremely dangerous political fire.”
Norway and North Korea, first and last again in 2018
In this year’s Index, Norway is first for the second year running, followed – as it was last year – by Sweden (2nd). Although traditionally respectful of press freedom, the Nordic countries have also been affected by the overall decline. Undermined by a case threatening the confidentiality of a journalist’s sources, Finland (down one at 4th) has fallen for the second year running, surrendering its third place to the Netherlands. At the other end of the Index, North Korea (180th) is still last.
The Index also reflects the growing influence of “strongmen” and rival models. After stifling independent voices at home, Vladimir Putin’s Russia (148th) is extending its propaganda network by means of media outlets such as RT and Sputnik, while Xi Jinping’s China (176th) is exporting its tightly controlled news and information model in Asia. Their ongoing suppression of criticism and dissent provides support to other countries near the bottom of the Index such as Vietnam (175th), Turkmenistan (178th) and Azerbaijan (163rd).
When it’s not despots, it’s war that helps turn countries into news and information black holes – countries such as Iraq (down two at 160th), which this year joined those at the very bottom of the Index where the situation is classified as “very bad.” There have never been so many countries that are coloured black on the press freedom map.
It’s in Europe, the region where press freedom is the safest, that the regional indicator has worsened most this year. Four of this year’s five biggest falls in the Index are those of European countries: Malta (down 18 at 65th), Czech Republic (down 11 at 34th), Serbia (down 10 at 76th) and Slovakia (down 10 at 27th). The European model’s slow erosion is continuing.
Ranked second (but more than 10 points worse than Europe), the Americas contain a wide range of situations. Violence and impunity continue to feed fear and self-censorship in Central America. Mexico (147th) became the world’s second deadliest country for journalists in 2017, with 11 killed. Thanks to President’s Maduro’s increasingly authoritarian excesses, Venezuela (143rd) dropped six places, the region’s biggest fall. On the other hand, Ecuador (92nd) jumped 13 places, the hemisphere’s greatest rise, because tension between the authorities and privately-owned media abated.
In North America, Donald Trump’s USA slipped another two places while Justin Trudeau’s Canada rose four and entered the top 20 at 18th place, a level where the situation is classified as “fairly good.”
Africa came next, with a score that is slightly better than in 2017 but also contained a wide range of internal variation. Frequent Internet cuts, especially in Cameroon (129th) and Democratic Republic of Congo (154th), combined with frequent attacks and arrests are the region’s latest forms of censorship. Mauritania (72nd) suffered the region’s biggest fall (17 places) after adopting a law under which blasphemy and apostasy are punishable by death even if the accused repents.
But a more promising era for journalists may result from the departure of three of Africa’s most predatory presidents, in Zimbabwe (up two as 126th), Angola (up four at 121st) and Gambia, whose 21-place jump to 122nd was Africa’s biggest.
In the Asia-Pacific region, still ranked fourth in the Index, South Korea jumped 20 places to 43rd, the Index’s second biggest rise, after Moon Jae-In’s election as president turned the page on a bad decade for press freedom. North Asia’s democracies are struggling to defend their models against an all-powerful China that exports its methods for silencing all criticism. Cambodia (142nd) seems dangerously inclined to take the same path as China after closing dozens of independent media outlets and plunging ten places, one of the biggest falls in the region.
The former Soviet countries and Turkey continue to lead the worldwide decline in press freedom. Almost two-thirds of the region’s countries are ranked somewhere near or below the 150th position in the Index and most are continuing to fall. They include Kyrgyzstan (98th), which registered one of the Index’s biggest falls (nine places) after a year with a great deal of harassment of the media including astronomic fines for “insulting the head of state.” In light of such a wretched performance, it is no surprise that the region’s overall indicator is close to reaching that of Middle East/North Africa.
According to the indicators used to measure the year-by-year changes, it is the Middle East/North Africa region that has registered the biggest decline in Media freedom. The continuing wars in Syria (117th) and Yemen (down one at 167th) and the terrorism charges still being used in Egypt (161st), Saudi Arabia (down one at 169th) and Bahrain (down two at 166th) continue to make this the most difficult and dangerous region for journalists to operate.
* Published annually by RSF since 2002, the World Press Freedom Index measures the level of media freedom in 180 countries, including the level of pluralism, media independence, the environment and self-censorship, the legal framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information. It does not evaluate government policy: http://bit.ly/2qUUiDN
World Press Freedom Day: A brief history, by Joel Simon. (Columbia Journalism Review)
In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly came together to declare May 3 World Press Freedom Day. The date was chosen to commemorate a UN-hosted conference held in the south African country of Namibia at which participants expressed support for “independent and pluralistic media.”
If you’re yawning at this point, I forgive you. Even as someone who has devoted my career to defending the rights of journalists around the world, I find it hard to get excited each year when World Press Freedom Day rolls around. Governments that routinely violate the rights of journalists emit solemn proclamations. UN agencies host international conferences at which everyone speaks and nothing gets done.
Then there is the chilling data. More than 260 journalists were in prison around the world at the end of last year, the highest number ever recorded by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Earlier this week, at least nine journalists were killed in a suicide attack carried out by the Islamic State in Kabul that appeared to deliberate target the media. In a separate attack that same day, a reporter for the Pashto service of the BBC was gunned down in Khost province.
This record of murder and repression is why World Press Freedom Day matters, certainly this year when the international consensus about the importance of press freedom and independent media has begun to disintegrate. For a quarter century, that consensus helped define critical global free expression policies, including those that facilitated the creation of the World Wide Web. Without it, the future of global free expression is in jeopardy.
To understand why, we need to take a historical look at how the consensus emerged. Free expression, is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a founding document of the United Nations, created in 1948. It declares that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
In the 1970s, UNESCO, the UN agency responsible for press freedom, commissioned a report which concluded that news agencies based in New York, Paris, and London were setting the global information agenda. This was undoubtedly true. But for the Soviet Union, it was also a political wedge. The solution the Soviets proposed was for governments to step in to regulate the media and establish ethical standards.
International media organizations and Western governments, including the United States, opposed the proposal, which would have gravely undermined press freedom. In 1984 the US withdrew from UNESCO in protest.
Five years later, the Soviet Union began to unravel. The Russian media, given latitude to work more freely under Glasnost (the term for Mikhail Gorbachev’s more lax government rules), challenged the historical myths at the heart of the Soviet Union and exposed corruption and incompetence that had been hidden from the public. By the time the hammer and sickle was lowered over the Kremlin in 1991, a global consensus had emerged that a free and open media could be an engine for accountability and democratic empowerment.
This notion was ratified when World Press Freedom Day was declared two years later. Over the next decade, the world witnessed an unprecedented expansion of press freedom as authoritarian leaders moved away from state control and direct censorship. It’s no coincidence that the global internet emerged during this period, as there was little ideological opposition to the creation of a shared global resource.
The trend began to reverse with the onset of the war on terror. To put it into numbers, 81 journalists were in jail around the world at the end of the 2000. By the end of the following year it jumped to 118, and it’s been an upward trajectory ever since. Today, around, the world, nearly three quarters of all journalists jailed are being held on anti-state charges. Of course, the actual war on terror has been been deadly for journalists. A record 185 journalists have been killed in Iraq by both terrorists themselves and the governments fighting them.
The next round of backsliding followed the Arab Spring in 2011. The toppling of entrenched regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, celebrated by democracy advocates, was interpreted differently by authoritarian leaders around the world. They recognized the need to control information in order to retain power, and that the internet posed a threat to this control. A new wave of online repression ensued across north African and Middle Eastern countries.
Russia, too, responded not just by restricting its own media, but by developing an offensive capability that it could deploy against countries like the US that it believed were using information to destabilize Russia.
At the moment when information is being weaponized, the historic defenders of press freedom, the US and Europe, are failing to step up. The EU is having a hard time finding its voice, perhaps because it is grappling with a press freedom crisis in two of its member states, Poland and Hungary, which are challenging democratic norms by imposing restrictions on the media through punitive media laws and control of government advertising. In Malta and Slovakia, two leading investigative journalists have been murdered.
Meanwhile, the president of the United States is engaged in permanent war with the media and declares journalists to be enemies of the American people. Donald Trump shows no interest in defending the international system that has supported press freedom for the past two decades.
Without global leadership, there is little consequence for countries that violate press freedom norms–whether it’s the Turkish government jailing journalists in record numbers or Israeli snipers shooting reporters as they cover the ongoing protests in Gaza, or a suicide bomb in Kabul targeted at journalists
In this context, I will take every World Press Freedom Day proclamation that I can get. Every public protest, every UN-hosted panel discussion, bolsters, however slightly, the global norms that for several decades supported the expansion of press freedom around the world. While it’s easy to roll your eyes at a UN-designated holiday, without a shared consensus about the value and importance of press freedom this fundamental right will fade into oblivion. http://bit.ly/2Kx072I
* Joel Simon is the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Digging deeper into corruption, violence against journalists and active civil society - Transparency International
To mark the release of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2017, we analysed corruption levels around the world and looked at how they relate to civil liberties – specifically, the ability of citizens to speak out in defence of their interests and the wider public good.
Fraying civic space
As journalists and activist groups are coming under mounting pressure from governments around the world, evidence sheds new light on the vital importance of civil society organisations (CSOs) and independent media in anti-corruption efforts. Yet, CSOs working on governance and human rights issues are subject to ever-greater restrictions on their operations, while attacks on journalists are on the rise in many parts of the world.
Such crackdowns are not only deeply concerning in their own right, but they also add to an environment in which corrupt public officials, shady businesses and organised criminals are able to act with impunity.
Freedom of association and expression in the fight against corruption
As Transparency International marks its 25th anniversary this year, our experience over the last quarter-century shows that curbing corruption requires more than just introducing well-designed laws. Corrupt individuals have proven very adept at finding ways to get around formal constraints, which is why grassroots and bottom-up approaches to fighting corruption tend to be more sustainable in the long run than isolated institutional and legal reform.
Often, well-intentioned laws are poorly enforced and institutions lack the ‘teeth’ to make anti-corruption efforts truly effective. Civil society and media are essential in applying pressure and keeping governments honest and accountable.
Specifically, freedom of association, including the ability of people to form groups and influence public policy, is vital to anti-corruption. CSOs play a key role in denouncing violations of rights or speaking out against breaches of law. Similarly, a free and independent media serves an important function in investigating and reporting incidences of corruption. The voices of both civil society and journalists put a spotlight on bad actors and can help trigger action by law enforcement and the court system.
Civil liberties in retreat? What the data shows
To further examine these relationships, we explored how four leading measurements of press freedom and civil society space relate to our index of public sector corruption. In doing so, we found evidence to suggest that those countries that respect press freedom, encourage open dialogue, and allow for full participation of CSOs in the public arena tend to be more successful at controlling corruption. Conversely, countries that repress journalists, restrict civil liberties and seek to stifle civil society organisations typically score lower.
The relationship between press freedom and corruption is further underlined by data provided by the Committee to Protect Journalists, which documents cases where journalists are killed while reporting on a story. Since 2012, 368 journalists died while pursing stories and 96 per cent of those deaths were in countries with corrupt public sectors. Moreover, one in five journalists killed worldwide were investigating corruption-related stories.
The relationship between civil liberties and corruption cuts both ways. Academic research points to a vicious cycle, where widespread corruption chips away at remaining civic space and targets groups that pose a challenge to authority. At the same time, the inability of citizens to hold their governments accountable contributes to even greater abuse.
Our experience of working with more than 100 chapters around the world shows that CSOs, grassroots movements and journalists are vital for improving the quality of governance. However, respect for civil liberties, such as freedom of expression and association, is only one component of an effective anti-corruption agenda. These elements prove all the more powerful when combined with genuine political will on the part of governments to tackle problems at their root. http://bit.ly/2HcZv0Q
* Global Witness on exposing corruption: http://www.globalwitness.org/en-gb/blog/world-press-freedom-day-why-free-press-important-freedom/ http://www.globalwitness.org/en-gb/blog/corruption-deep-rooted-and-pervasive-how-were-tackling-it/
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