The persistent application of national security laws to punish media or further tighten limitations on freedom of expression has sent a chill through global newsrooms.
But most importantly, it is about being aware of the power of collective action, of mobilising as professionals, for professionals, on whatever issue is put in our path. WAN-IFRA works directly with media organisations in over 20 countries to support these dual efforts. Beyond sensitisation of the importance of a free press, media in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East are taking concrete steps to ensure they are at the forefront when it comes to advocating their own freedoms – in their newsrooms, among peers, and in the communities in which they operate.
Our Media Freedom Committees are empowering media to lead advocacy on each continent. Coordinated and run by media professionals, they set their agenda and define what they as a collective body can achieve – in partnership with existing initiatives, or as a body unique unto themselves. A year into the experiment, we’re already seeing how the strategy can provide a way forward.
In Uganda, a network of over 250 journalists are connected country-wide to discuss safety, good practice, offer advice, and identify where colleagues need support and training to raise the standard of the profession in the public eye. In Egypt, our Committee is conducting public research into just why society is turning away from media, offering suggestions as to how the profession can reverse this trend. In Indonesia, collaboration between nine leading news organisations brought the Jakarta-centric news industry to the outlying province of Papua to expose issues the local media felt received little or no coverage in the national agenda.
In Ecuador, the media is leading calls for reform with the new government after initiating public consultations on redrawing the notorious media laws. In South Africa, our partner newsrooms have designed and undergone their own advanced digital safety training curriculum, recognising that they all need access to the latest skills to survive in an increasingly controlled online environment.
In Palestine, Botswana, Malaysia, Colombia, Zambia, Cambodia, Kenya and a dozen other countries, WAN-IFRA is ensuring media are in control of similar advocacy efforts that will impact the overall state of freedom of expression, so that maybe next year, or in five years, or beyond, the opinion pieces published on 3 May won’t make for such grim reading.
We are better equipped, more empowered and more likely to succeed – and keep on succeeding – if we know we have the support of colleagues and peers. That is the strength of our profession. That is the approach WAN- IFRA is advocating on this World Press Freedom Day.
WAN-IFRA is the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.