IFEX Executive Director Solicits More Efforts by Civil Society Worldwide to Defend Press Freedom

Ms Annie Game
Executive Director of IFEX

The Executive Director of the global network of freedom of expression organizations, IFEX, Ms Annie Game, has called on civil society around the world to redouble their efforts to defend press freedom, saying “We need to value and support the critical work of journalists countering the mis- and disinformation flooding our communications channels, especially during crises, conflicts and elections.”

In an Op-Ed she wrote in commemoration of the 2022 World Press Freedom Day celebrations on May 3, Ms Game noted that “The good news is that when the media and civil society work together, they create a better information climate – and a healthier civic space – for us all.”

But she lamented that information pollution is at an all-time-high, observing that this “is never more true than in times of crisis, when our news feeds fill with a torrent of ‘information’ – much of which is incorrect, misleading, or straight-up fabricated.”

Ms Game, who heads the global network of over 120 member-organisations in 90 countries that promotes and defends freedom of expression and information as a fundamental human right, highlight as “good news” the fact that creative partnerships between media and civil society are tackling the scourge head on, around the world and year-round, helping keep communities informed and better equipped to engage with issues that improve their lives.

According to her, “Many civil society organisations have partnered with journalists and media outlets to debunk conspiracy theories, as well as to ensure that critical and accurate information gets to people so they can keep themselves safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Others are supporting and working with journalists to defend the democratic process – exposing and correcting weaponized disinformation that aims to mislead voters and suppress voting during elections in every region of the world.”

Ms Game pleaded that “On this World Press Freedom Day, let’s take a beat to think about our information climate, where media fit in, and what this means for the rest of us. Journalists are perhaps most visible to many of us as purveyors of news. They also provide essential access to reliable, accessible, accurate, fact-checked information that helps inform the decisions that shape our lives and our societies.”

She regretted, however, that “Increasingly, media are under-resourced, forced offline, tied up by strategic lawsuits brought against them by the wealthy and powerful, demeaned and smeared by prominent public figures, threatened, harassed, jailed, and assaulted by tyrants. This stems the flow of vital and reliable information, and we all lose. It leaves a huge gap, too easily filled by social media – a massive breeding ground for disinformation, as well as a business model that works by reinforcing, and ultimately polarizing and entrenching points of view based on opinion and lies, instead of facts.”

Ms Game stressed that the result is an information climate that is so chaotic that people lose confidence in their ability to distinguish truth from lies, making them “more receptive to easy, bite-sized answers to very real, very complicated problems.”

She said: “This plays out well for the autocrats. They are more than happy to provide the easy answers while conveniently blaming those who are best-placed to challenge those false narratives. They demonize the media, endangering journalists with caustic rhetoric aimed at chipping away their credibility with the public – leaving free and independent media in the lurch, and under threat.”

Ms Game argued that it is in this context that the role of civil society is most needed in “supporting, elevating, and promoting the work of journalists, highlighting our collective need for information integrity, and denouncing practices aimed at undermining the press freedom on which it relies.”

She described such a role as “one of the best and most essential protections we can provide the media – to make sure that people continue to value information, and have confidence in it. To challenge laws that hobble their work. To promote their safety, and to advocate tirelessly for justice when they are assaulted with impunity.”

Ms Game insisted that people are not naïve and know that there are bad actors in every institution, including the media, but added that “when it comes to ensuring our right to information, the media are our greatest allies – and we need to be theirs.”

She called on civil society on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day 2022 to redouble their efforts to defend press freedom, noting that “In these times, we need it to not only survive – but thrive. We are in it for the long haul. We have to be.”