World Press Freedom Day on 3 May is the global celebration of the fundamental right to freedom of expression. The struggle for press freedom is more important than ever.
“Journalism is one of the professions that is most exposed to threats, and this is especially true for female journalists. This constitutes a threat not only to women and quality journalism but also to freedom of expression, equality and democracy,” says Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström. “We need to work continuously on different levels to ensure that these issues are never forgotten or ignored,” she adds.
Last week, the Swedish Government presented 135 new country reports on human rights, democracy and the rule of law. A gloomy picture emerges from the reports of how the space for critical voices is shrinking, including for the media and those who stand up for a better environment, less corruption and greater gender equality.
Threats and violence towards, and even murders of, journalists is a growing problem. Women journalists are particularly at risk. These abuses pose a serious threat to freedom of speech and the democratic debate. The reports also show how the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index is often a good indicator of the extent to which other human rights are respected. Moreover, the reports show that journalists and demonstrators who have drawn attention to toxic emissions from factories have been harassed and murdered when they have criticised the problems of financial interests taking priority over people’s health and environmental considerations.
The Government is working to strengthen journalists’ security by pursuing the issue of accountability for the harassment of people exercising their freedom of expression. Impunity for these crimes must never be accepted. Our support for a number of civil society organisations working in the area of freedom of expression and media issues is an important part of this work.
The 2017 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders, reflects a world in which attacks on the media have become commonplace and authoritarian leaders are on the rise. We have reached the age of post-truth, propaganda and suppression of freedoms – especially in democracies, according to Reporters Without Borders.
“The rate at which democracies are approaching the tipping point is alarming for all those who understand that if media freedom is not secure, then none of the other freedoms can be guaranteed,” says Christophe Deloire, Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders.
Media freedom has never been so threatened. The measure of the overall level of media freedom constraints and violations worldwide has risen 14 per cent over a five-year period. In the past year, nearly two thirds of the countries measured have registered a deterioration in their situation, while the number of countries where the media freedom situation was ‘good’ or ‘fairly good’ fell by 2.3 per cent.
“What happens to journalists and to journalism is a symbol of how society respects the fundamental freedoms of expression and access to information. Society suffers whenever a journalist falls victim, whether to threats, harassment or murder. It affects us all when press freedom is curbed by censorship or political interference, or is contaminated by manipulation and made-up content,” says Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO.
Free and independent journalism reinforces democracy, justice and the rule of law. It is also a prerequisite for combating gross economic inequalities, reversing climate change and promoting women’s rights.
According to the World Press Freedom Index, Sweden is the second-best country in the world for press freedom.
Sweden boasts the world’s oldest press freedom law, which celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2016. But with the rise of social media, online threats against journalists have posed a growing threat to press freedom even in Sweden in recent years.
Jonathan Lundqvist, President of Reporters Without Borders Sweden, told the news site The Local that Sweden’s improved ranking this year was largely down to improved cooperation between the media and the police over such threats.
“Last year we had a number of court sentences in cases where journalists had been threatened, and where the legal authorities had prioritised investigating these threats. That sends a very clear signal: that an attack on journalists is more than just that – it’s an attack on society as a whole,” Lundqvist told The Local.