The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum appeal for improved physical protections for journalists, an end to censorship and other pressures facing news media as 3 May, World Press Freedom Day marks yet another tragic year for the profession and reveals growing threats to freedoms from new challenges worldwide.
20 journalists have been killed so far in 2015 in direct relation to their work, including eight in connection to the 7th January attack on the newsroom of French satirical weeklyCharlie Hebdo. Those numbers follow at least 61 journalist deaths in 2014.
“WAN-IFRA uses the occasion of 3 May, World Press Freedom Day to repeat the call that ‘enough is enough’ when it comes to the killing of journalists and demands that more is done to better protect the profession,” said WAN-IFRA Secretary General, Larry Kilman. “TheCharlie Hebdo attack was a wake-up call to many that critical views even in democratic societies are under severe threat – already a fact, sadly, on a daily basis in many other parts of the world.”
“But it is not simply through the horrendous criminal acts of fanatics that the press is silenced. We are witnessing an alarming rise in attempts to undermine the independence, financial stability and digital security of news organisations from multiple sources, which is something that should be of deep concern to us all. A critical press is more essential than ever in denouncing all forms of attack on freedom of expression in order to hold the powerful to account.”
While killings, physical attacks and jailing continue to dominate the headlines and provide the most shocking reminder of the fragility of the profession, more subtle and often overlooked forms of censorship are fast eroding media freedoms worldwide, often with equally devastating consequences for freedom of expression.
On 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, WAN-IFRA invites media houses, editors and journalists to denounce one of the most sophisticated forms of interference in the media sector worldwide: indirect government censorship, or ‘soft censorship’.
Less visible than more traditional forms of harassment against media professionals, the term soft censorship refers to indirect or under-the-radar abuses of financial, regulatory and other government powers to punish critical reporting and reward favourable coverage. Where the financial leverage of governments and their cronies is used against media, it often leads to unbalanced reporting and promotes a culture of fear among media professionals, finally spiralling into self-censorship.
Launching officially on 3 May, a new WAN-IFRA website www.softcensorship.org and accompanying twitter account @softcensorship / #SoftCensorship have been created to help expose government interference with a free press.
Through its new online platforms, WAN-IFRA aims to denounce cases of unfair official advertising allocation, biased distribution of subsidies, paid “news”, bribery and payments to journalists and editors, and other administrative pressures such as licenses, import restrictions, excessive tax bills and audit procedures that contribute to strangling a free press worldwide.
Media are invited to use the resources to expose instances of soft censorship and contribute to a broader understanding of the phenomenon as a means to better protect transparency and independence.
“While we must use every means available to prevent the killing of journalists and better protect those most at risk, equally, we cannot afford to ignore challenges to independent media from elsewhere,” said Larry Kilman. “Left unchecked, these threats will grow to undermine the work of our colleagues who have sacrificed their lives in the name of freedom of expression. All attacks on a free press have the goal of silencing critical reporting, and we must be alert and ready to denounce them, wherever and however they arise.”
As part of WAN-IFRA’s 3 May resources, an editorial addressing press freedom concerns is available to freely download and publish from http://www.wan-ifra.org/node/129940/
Together with the Open Society Foundations (OSF), Washington D.C.-based Center for Media Assistance (CIMA) and in-country research partners, WAN-IFRA has analysed the use of soft censorship practices in Hungary, Serbia, Mexico and Malaysia. In addition, the first global review, collating examples of soft censorship practices worldwide – Soft Censorship, Hard Impact – reveals that, regardless of the levels of market development or political freedom, media around the world consider economic pressure to be a major challenge to editorial independence and financial survival.