World Press Freedom Day - Why Does it Matter?
World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993. Since then, May 3rd, the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek for free press in Africa, is celebrated worldwide.
After 30 years, the "historic connection made between the freedom to seek information for the public good remains as relevant as it was at the time of its signing," if not more.
May 3rd is a reminder to all governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. For professionals and the public, the day is an opportunity to celebrate the value of press freedom and assess the state of free press around the world.
But, it is also a reminder to pay tribute to journalists who have sacrificed personal safety, reputation or even lost lives while doing this important work.
The world has seen this personified in real time during Russia's invasion of Ukraine; how the state of the press in each nation creates a different reality of the war. In Ukraine, the local and international press have shared vivid, disturbing images of the brutality of the attacks on civilians. In contrast, the Russian government has made it a crime to even use the word "war," instead claiming Russia is liberating Ukraine from Nazi's. Russia's state-controlled media delivers this tightly controlled propaganda daily. Political dissent and criticism is suppressed while independent news has been driven underground and even out of the country.
The incongruence in the two realities created by the free vs. government controlled press is most evident in the stories of Russian soldiers searching through small villages for the "Nazis" the Russian military say have taken over Ukraine. These stories reach the outside world because of journalists risking their lives to tell them.
Without the press as witness, the disinformation and propaganda from the Russian government would go unquestioned.
World Press Freedom Day is a reminder to recognize and appreciate these efforts, and question any political rhetoric that devalues it.