Insecurity, impunity, and violence against the press persisted in 2016. Journalists and media workers were arrested, assaulted, and murdered throughout the year and the first quarter of 2017. In addition, major political events imposed new legal, financial, political, and social pressures on journalists around the world. Among others: fake news and governments’ potentially arbitrary answers, the significant role acquired by social media in news consumption challenging media’s traditional financial models; the emergence of political actors hostile to free journalism –and the consolidation of old regimes adverse to individual liberties; and the use of terrorism, extremism, and nationalist speech to hinder the free flow of ideas.
Paradoxically, this context arises less than a year after governments recognized freedom of expression and the right to information as vital inputs for sustainable development. In September 2015, 193 Member States of the United Nations agreed on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, highlighting that access to information and free and quality journalism are not only targets to sustainable development but also means to promote the rule of law and peaceful and inclusive societies.
On the occasion of the 2017 World Press Freedom Day, ARTICLE 19 urges all States to address and guarantee two crucial conditions required for a free press: journalists’ safety and a vibrant information flow.
During the last year, ARTICLE 19 witnessed increased violence levels against journalists. Besides, impunity is still prevalent in cases of aggressions against the press. As ARTICLE 19’s annual reports from different countries and regions prove, no policy to address the situation can be successful if prevention of aggressions and protection measures for threatened journalists are not accompanied with the thorough prosecution of all crimes committed against them:
- In 2016, Bangladesh faced a series of violent attacks against journalists. ARTICLE 19 recorded 320 attacks against journalists working in print, electronic and online media; including 18 journalists arrested and 3 murdered. Xulhaz Mannan, editor of the country’s first and only LGBTI magazine Roopban, was one of the latter. In April, he was murdered by a group of extremist youths. Even if the police arrested a suspect and pursued a line of enquiry with grounds of Xulhaz’s LGBTI publication, the investigation has not progressed further. Signs of impunity are worrying even more in a country where there is a tendency to threaten journalists and photojournalists that report on sensitive public issues, involving high-profile politicians, political parties, child marriage, corruption, and illegal businesses. A briefing on the findings of ARTICLE 19’s report on free expression in Bangladesh is available here.
- In Brazil, during the same year, 22 journalists received threats to their lives, 5 suffered assassination attempts, and 4 were murdered. In the country, journalists and communicators are attacked after they have published accusations about public authorities, alleging irregularities in public office, our annual report found [link]. In spite of this delicate situation, during the turbulent scenario surrounding the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff, the government restricted the reach of the Protection Program even more by limiting its measures to people in threatening situations, and excluding civil society from its decision-making council. This backlash adds to the program’s lack of specific methodologies for providing services and protection to journalists and communicators.
- In Mexico, ineffective security measures and impunity continue inhibiting a free press. In 2016, out of 426 attacks committed against journalists and media outlets, 99.7% went unpunished. In the same year, 11 journalists were murdered, making no other year as lethal to the press. Freedom in Resistance, Mexico’s annual report, illustrates that prevention and protection measures may be useless if impunity is not combatted. The case of Pedro Tamayo, the 8th murdered journalist in 2016, illustrates this point. Armed men killed him in July, in spite of receiving security measures from state authorities since January, when he received life threats for the first time. Pedro’s colleague and former partner, Alicia Blanco, has received several life threats after denouncing authorities’ inaction in prosecuting Pedro’s murderers. Freedom in Resistance is available here in Spanish; read an executive summary in English here.
- In Kenya, more than 80 journalists faced various forms of aggression while carrying out their work. Recently, Isaiah Gwengi, a Kenyan journalist was arbitrarily detained, beat, stripped, and taunted by Police Officers while working on a story on police brutality. In other Eastern African countries, as political conditions worsened in 2015 and 2016 so did journalists’ safety. In Somalia, for instance, two journalists were killed in the course of duty. In South Sudan, journalists have been detained and some expelled. In Uganda, at least 3 journalists were killed, two of them by the Police, amidst uprisings during the electoral period.
Free access and dissemination of information
The role of the media has never been as important for the full functioning of healthy and robust civil societies around the world as nowadays. Journalists and media outlets usually are on the front of battles against corruption and impunity, shedding light over wrongdoings in both public and private sectors.
Access to public records and documents of public interest, therefore, needs be guaranteed. Even if by 2016, 105 countries had adopted Right to Information laws covering 88% of the world’s population (see infographics here) some legal obstacles still prevent people and journalists from accessing public records. The use of national security and corporate justifications to restrict the public’s right to information, for instance, continue to grow and officials are increasingly demanding their right to a “private space” to decide the public’s business, even while privacy threats to the public increase. In this sense, when right to information laws and other measures fail, other sources, such as whistleblowers, are necessary to ensure independent investigation and reporting on legitimate public interest matters –and in the end, to guarantee people’s right to know. However, just over 60 countries have adopted laws on whistleblowing, and many of those laws are limited and ineffective.
These two concerns and other regards of the free flow of information were addressed in our recently-revised Right to Know Principles, launched in 2016 and available here.
In 2017 World Press Freedom Day, ARTICLE 19 calls upon all States to face the challenges ahead and to address the mentioned concerns that limit press freedom. We encourage people as well to log onto ARTICLE19.org, and share these reports and graphics via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, using #pressfreedom #WPFD2017, as to get involved with civil society groups who are actively campaigning in different countries for freedom of the press.