UN rings the alarm on diminishing global press freedoms

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to a world press freedom event at UN headquarters on May 2, 2023 – Copyright AFP Gueipeur Denis SASSOU

Press freedom is under attack in every corner of the world, the United Nations chief said Tuesday, denouncing the targeting of journalists and the spread of disinformation.

Speaking ahead of World Press Freedom day on Wednesday, Antonio Guterres issued a rallying cry for journalists and media worldwide.

“All our freedom depends on press freedom,” he said in a video message, calling it the “foundation of democracy and justice” and the “lifeblood of human rights.”

“But in every corner of the world, freedom of the press is under attack,” the UN secretary-general added.

Guterres did not name jailed journalists or cast blame on countries, but other speakers highlighted individual cases, such as that of US journalist Evan Gershkovich, detained in Russia on espionage charges, which he rejects.

“I’m coming from a country, Iran, where being a journalist is a crime… (and) can land you in jail, can get you killed, can get you tortured,” said Masih Alinejad, an Iranian-American journalist living in exile. 

– ‘Threatened by disinformation’ –

According to Reporters Without Borders, 55 journalists and four media workers were killed in the line of duty in 2022.

“Truth is threatened by disinformation and hate speech, seeking to blur the lines between fact and fiction, between science and conspiracy,” Guterres said.

Journalists, he added, “are routinely harassed, intimidated, detained, and in prisons.” 

Others voiced similar concerns, with the head of UNESCO, which is organizing an event at the United Nations in New York to mark the occasion on Wednesday, also speaking out. 

Audrey Azoulay said the digital age was changing the entire information landscape — making “professional, free, independent journalism” more necessary than ever. 

She said harassment and intimidation of journalists was unacceptable.

“We find ourselves at a new crossroads,” she said. “Our current path is leading us away from informed public debates… a path towards ever more polarization.”

New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger called attention to Gershkovich, a journalist for the Wall Street Journal who was detained in Russia in late March.

He “remains in Russian custody for sham charges and should be released,” Sulzberger said.

Sulzberger said it is not only direct repression that threatens journalists and freedom of information.

“The internet also unleashed the avalanche of misinformation, propaganda, punditry and clickbait that now overwhelms our information ecosystem…  accelerating the decline in societal trust,” he said.

“When the free press erodes, democratic erosion almost always follows.”

The secretary general of Amnesty International, Agnes Callamard, said censorship has become more common.

“Sadly, censorship has become the default position of many governments in terms of controlling the knowledge of their societies,” she said.

UN rings the alarm on diminishing global press freedoms
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