The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has called for the urgent adoption of a binding international instrument that will strengthen press freedom by forcing governments to investigate and respond to attacks against the media because, according to it, press freedom has taken another step backwards and freedom of expression is not the driver for other human rights that it should be.
IFJ made the call on the occasion of the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2023 by international organisations and the media. This year, UNESCO is focusing its activities on the global theme: “Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of Expression as a Driver for all other human rights”.
IFJ President, Dominique Pradalie, said “From Peru to Iran, from Sudan to Afghanistan, governments are taking drastic measures to impede freedom of expression and prevent the public’s right to know, including internet restrictions, beating, jailing and intimidating journalists, controlling media content and introducing drastic media laws and other laws to curb the free flow of information. Since the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration in 1991, very little has been undertaken to create concrete conditions at international level to guarantee freedom and security for journalists.”
IFJ deplored the fact that freedom of expression is far from acting as a driver for other human rights and that press freedom is clearly taking a step backwards pointing out that ongoing media crackdowns have led to large numbers of journalists being jailed.
Disclosing the figures of journalists and media workers attacked in 2022 to buttress its point, it said at least 375 journalists and media workers were imprisoned in 2022 with China emerging as the world’s biggest jailer of journalists.
IFJ’s latest list of media professionals killed in the course of their duty shows that 68 media staff were killed in 2022 and very few of these cases have been investigated because impunity for killing media workers has been the rule over the years.
The group cited ongoing wars and civil unrest in countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Peru, Sudan, Ukraine and Yemen which have seen journalists being deliberately targeted and killed. It said 13 journalists have been killed since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022 while thousands of Afghan journalists and their families have had to flee Afghanistan for fear of being killed.
It added that digital surveillance and the widespread use of spying software have been used on hundreds of journalists in order to kill stories thereby, putting many journalists at risk of seeing their sources and whereabouts and other personal data being publicly disclosed.
Repressive laws and Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPPs), according to IFJ, have also been widely used to curb free speech and to force journalists to censor themselves all over the world.
It also stated that the fragile media economy, the decline in local news reporting and poor trade union representation have led to drastic cuts in newsrooms, with massive lay-offs and increased discrimination against the most vulnerable categories of journalists.
The IFJ deplored the fact that, despite the goodwill expressed in the two UN resolutions (1738 and 2222) on the protection of journalists in conflict zones, no real commitment has been made to eradicate violence against journalists, to make them safer and to make any attacks against them illegal.