Each year, on 3 May, we celebrate World Press Freedom Day. That’s the day that we honour global press freedom, pay tributes to journalists who have tragically lost their lives in the line of duty, and defend media against attempts to attack their independence.
World Press Freedom Day was founded in 1993 by the UN General Assembly following a recommendation at a UNESCO General Conference. The move was in response to African journalists who, in 1991, produced a landmark and iconic statement of press freedoms called the Windhoek Declaration.
The Windhoek Declaration marked the start of a movement of journalists, editors, owners of publications, and people who work in every part of the media industry. It sparked the emergence of media development organisations across the globe and laid down the foundations for the media pluralism and independence that most countries enjoy today.
However, the day also serves as a sobering reminder that (even 24 years after the inception of World Press Freedom Day) there are still dozens of countries that violate basic press freedoms. There are still places where publications are censored, fined, and shut down for publishing provocative material. The fate of journalists in countries with bad records when it comes to human rights issues can be much worse; there are still cases where they have been harassed, attacked, or even murdered.
These are all good reasons to get involved in World Press Freedom Day this year. After all, it’s a great way to send out a strong message to the global community and let them know that we are all in favour of press freedom. Plus, we acknowledge the paramount importance of governments respecting their UN commitment to freedom of speech. Equally important, we can send out a message of solidarity and support to people who stand strong against those who seek to restrain, abolish, or erode press freedoms.
The freedom that the press enjoy (in countries like the UK) comes with a great deal of responsibility. Media is a powerful tool that can be used to promote values such as fairness, democracy, accountability and tolerance but it can also be used to divide society. Indeed, in the current world of fake news and social media echo chambers, and at a time when anyone with a laptop and an internet connection can parade as a bona fide journalist, we need to respect freedom of speech but we also need to remember the responsibility that comes with it.