U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on May 2 urged the international community to “speak with one voice” and call for stopping the detention and imprisonment of journalists for doing their jobs, as he sounded an alarm that freedom of the press is under attack in every corner of the world.
Mr. Guterres underscored that “all our freedom” depends on press freedom.
“Freedom of the press is the foundation of democracy and justice,” he said in his video message ahead of World Press Freedom Day 2023.
World Press Freedom Day is observed annually on May 3.
“On this and every World Press Freedom Day, the world must speak with one voice – Stop the threats and attacks. Stop detaining and imprisoning journalists for doing their jobs. Stop the lies and disinformation. Stop targeting truth and truth-tellers,” Guterres said in the message telecast in the UN General Assembly Hall here at a special event organised by UNESCO.
Mr. Guterres voiced concern that in every corner of the world, freedom of the press is under attack.
“Truth is threatened by disinformation and hate speech, seeking to blur the lines between fact and fiction, between science and conspiracy,” he said.
He noted that at least 67 media workers were killed in 2022, an “unbelievable” 50 per cent increase over the previous years and nearly three-quarters of women journalists have experienced violence online and one in four have been threatened physically.
“Journalists and media workers are directly targeted on and offline as they carry out their vital work. They are routinely harassed, intimidated, detained and imprisoned,” he said.
The U.N. chief also added that the increased concentration of the media industry into the hands of a few, the financial collapse of scores of independent news organisations and the increase of national laws and regulations that stifle journalists are further expanding censorship and threatening freedom of expression.
The event organised by UNESCO marks 30 years since the U.N. General Assembly’s decision proclaiming an international day for press freedom. This year’s theme for the Day is ‘Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights’.
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said hundreds of journalists globally have been attacked and imprisoned “just because they are doing their work. It is unacceptable.” She added that the level of impunity of crimes against journalists sends a “frightening” message and stressed that the security of journalists is a matter for society as a whole.
Delivering the keynote address, Chairman and Publisher of The New York Times A.G. Sulzberger said that when the free press erodes in a society, “democratic erosion almost always follows.” He said all over the world, autocrats and those who aspire to join their ranks have used censorship, media repression and attacks on journalists to consolidate power.
“That’s because gaining control of information is essential to gaining control of everything else.” He added that in countries where press freedoms were strong, including the United States, journalists now face systematic campaigns to undermine their credibility, followed by attacks on the legal protections that safeguard their work.
In countries where press freedoms were already weak, journalists now face surging levels of violence, detention and harassment, he said adding that more journalists are being killed today for their work and the number of imprisoned journalists has reached a grim new record.
“Spin a globe and you’ll find examples of these trends. In China, journalists are surveilled, intimidated and jailed…In Egypt, the government has used security services to buy up outlets and block uncooperative news sites…In India, authorities have raided newsrooms and treated journalists essentially as terrorists,” Sulzberger said.
Referring to the situation in Russia, he said journalists who “dare to even acknowledge the war in Ukraine face long prison terms.” He called for the release of The Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, “who remains in Russian custody for sham charges.” Gershkovich was detained in March this year by Russian security services and is being held on an allegation of espionage.