Monday, 6 December, 2021

Free Press Checks Disinformation

Free Press Checks Disinformation

Namrata Sharma


MAY 3 is celebrated all over the world as the World Press Freedom Day. Nepal too has been celebrating this day. However, this year the gloom of the pandemic has overshadowed the celebrations. The United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 as the World Press Freedom Day. This day is observed to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right of freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This day also marks the anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration – a statement of free press principles put together by African newspaper journalists in Windhoek in 1991.

Since the first Declaration by the UN, May 3 has been the day to evaluate press freedom all over the world and to raise concerns over the curbing of press and attacks on journalists. This day celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom and also pays tributes to the journalists who have lost their lives in pursuit of factual news to bring out stories that the world needs to read about. Over the years, there has been liberalisation of media in various nations and transnational media is a reality via satellite and subscription. This has led towards a rise of pluralistic media environment all over the world.
However, the media all over the world is now facing substantial economic challenges. Certain technological developments have helped people to communicate and access information more easily, but access to information still faces a huge divide between genders, social diversities, and between and within regions and countries. As corporatisation of media has increased, it is obvious that now a handful of internet companies provides communication services to billions of users across the world. Over the years, these service providers have also been criticised for enabling hate and disinformation rather than journalism. They are also slammed for weak transparency and accountability on how they use their gatekeeping power.
According to the UNESCO concept note on World Press Freedom Day 2021, one of the most important changes since 1991 has been the increased legal recognition of the right to access to information. The UNESCO report says that while in 1991 only 12 countries were equipped with laws guaranteeing the rights of citizens to access government information, this number rose to 40 countries in 2009 culminating to 126 countries in 2019.
Free and independent journalism is the key to disseminating information for the service of the humanity without discriminating anyone. However, although the world is trying to move ahead in a pluralistic liberalised manner, there is no denying that today there is production of information with various contents that are often bombarded via the digital communication sphere. It is important to note here that this bombardment also includes the challenges of disinformation and hate speech. The local news outlets are now facing a lot of strain, as people get loads of confusing information.
While the World Press Day week is still going on it is important to look at what are the steps to ensure the economic viability of news media, how to develop mechanisms for ensuring transparency of internet companies, and how to enhance media and information literacy capacities that will enable people to recognise and value good journalism and to also be equipped with knowledge to see what is fake news. Although the young generation is now so much in tune to the digital media they may not be aware of the struggles that the press faced all over the world to attain press freedom.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit journalism very hard. Attention is therefore required to address the threat of extinction faced by local news media around the world. The challenges of online media environment, transparency of internet companies, safety of journalists and their working conditions need to be explored very deeply and raised among policy makers and the public.
This year, the theme of the world Press Freedom Day was – Information as Public Good. It highlights the important difference between information and disinformation, hate speech and entertainment data. UNESCO states that the aim of 2021 theme is to draw attention to the special role of journalism in producing news as verified information in the public interest, and to how this depends on a wider ecosystem which enables information as a public good.

Independent media
Since the end of 2019, the COVID-9 pandemic has shown that the role played by a free and independent media is crucial in keeping people informed. It is a great challenge to keep oneself and those around you safe and secure without the access to information regarding the progress of the pandemic. The work that the news media has done via the print, television, radio, or via digital platforms has remained a powerful source of information that people can access to. In many countries, the journalists and fact checkers have worked relentlessly for long hours to make sure that when misinformation and disinformation are leaked out, facts are put out too so that the people do not get misled. However, while doing this journalists have faced the brunt of restrictions imposed on them by the measures put in place to contain the virus.
It is now important to make the youth aware that a lot of work had been done to ensure press freedom. However, today not only the powerful people but also the pandemic is having very adverse effects on the press. Therefore, advocacy to lift off restrictions on free press by both the government and the corporatised sector is the need of the day to stop disinformation, hate speech and to make sure the people get factual news.

(Namrata Sharma is a senior journalist and women rights advocate. Twitter handle: NamrataSharmaP)