By Frezer Zewude, UAA and David Young, UNESCO Bangkok
The World Press Freedom Day 2019 official opening ceremony today was also marked by a panel discussion on how the media can be strengthened in the face of emerging challenges.
The panel discussing this pertinent issue comprised of the Rt Honourable Jeremy Hunt MP and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, United Kingdom; Wambui Kiai, the Director for the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Nairobi; Jonathan Munro, the Head of Newsgathering, BBC; Nadia Khiari, a press cartoonist; Cartoonists for Peace and creator of Willis from Tunis and Afrah Nasser, a Blogger and winner of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award 2017. The panel was moderated by Hiba Morgan, who is a producer and Journalist with Al Jazeera.
The concesus was that although some positive strides have been made in the promotion and exercise of press freedom, we cannot celebrate yet as some dangerous and worrisom developments regarding violetions of press freedom are being reportered around the world. The biggest threats include intimidation, abuse, imprisonment and even death. It is a disturbing trend that needs to be reversed, because, according to Jeremy Hunt: “Wisdom arises from the open competition of ideas.”and that, “Media freedom is not a western value, but a force for progress.” “A free country is the first basis for a prosperous country.”
Several recommendations were discussed to help combat the strengthen media’s role in challenging times and below is a summary of 7 of them:
Verification of news
Nadia Khiari emphasized the importance of verifying information before publishing it. The new media has opened spaces for expressions that are advantageous for us but at the same time the net is a jungle – it is therefore vital to verify information, use reliable sources, find accurate numbers and check with the people on the street.
Regulation of online abuses
Afrah Nasser shared with us disturbing facts on press freedom violations from Yemen a pattern observed in other fragile states. She also led a one minute silence in honour and memory of fallen journalists and other who are currently facing dire and oppressive treatment. In such draconian contexts, journalists are perceived as criminals who are not spared in online spaces by the military forces. It was in this context that she called for online regulation to inhibit the abuse of press freedom against journalists.
Technology based solutions
While, Afrah’s suggestions might be a positive hinderance for abuses of press freedom, regulating social media may also offer challenges that may end up inhibiting their potential for positive change. According to Jonathan, “Like all new areas of freedom, there come new areas of responsibilities.” Which points to the double edged role and potential of new media. Jonathan suggests technologically based solutions to address online abuses by powerful bodies especially when developed and implemented in a collaborative manner by multi-stakeholders such as those attending this WPFD events.
Journalists need the necessary skill to enable them to adapt to the ever-changing demands of the journalism. Jeremy Hunt, took the opportunity to announce that the British government will avail media training fellowships to 100 journalists in the coming months.
Support for election and election coverage
Hunt also said that his government will allocate 15.5 million pounds for the Ethiopian upcoming elections. They will work in partnership with the national Election Board in Ethiopia. The aim is to foster the continued path to democratic Ethiopia.
Educational capacity development
Wambui Kiai highlighted the important role Universities play in building the capacity and competence for potential journalists. At her University, they have several courses covering ethical issues, Law, critical thinking among others aimed at combating challenges such ask fake news and misinformation. This, they do in collaboration with relevant actors in the journalism associations and women media associations.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect regarding press freedom is the issue of impunity by the abusers of journalists’ rights. According to Jonathan, this requires a concerted effort by multi-actors in policy, practice, government bodies to work together to bring perpetutor to accountable for their crimes against journalists and journalistic work