The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
The text was published as a part of a blog relay highlighting the 250th anniversary of the adoption of legal guarantees for freedom of information and a free press in Sweden.
When I worked as a journalist in Sudan several years ago, government officials subtly harassed me, deleted data from my laptop, and eventually expelled me from the country. Today, I run a non-profit news outlet covering humanitarian crises, and have seen our journalists detained, prevented entry into countries, and worse: On 17 January, our Yemeni contributor Almigdad Mojalli was killed by an apparent air strike.
The risks to my profession are very real, as outlined by my fellow #250words bloggers. But another risk is often overlooked in debates about press freedom: our very existence.
The media business model today is in crisis. Advertising is down and paying subscribers are tough to attract. Both commercial and non-profit media are shutting down by the day. Many of those that survive are co-opted by political, ethnic, religious or factional interests, or otherwise by advertisers, “brand sponsors” and other commercial influencers.
Witness the chasing of eyeballs and traffic, the focus on stories that go viral, the publication of rumour, conjecture and in some cases, outright lies. Subjects not inherently popular or profitable are often left by the wayside.
We say a free press is essential in a democratic society. We say we value an independent voice that questions authority, breaks down barriers, and amplifies the voices of the most vulnerable. And we recognize that in today’s complex and polarized world, in the age of Trump and Brexit, of migration and climate change, this role is needed more than ever.
But a free press is not only safe from government manipulation or violent attack. It is must also be financially free to pursue journalism in the public interest. If the world is serious about a free press, we – governments, philanthropists and readers – must be prepared to invest in high-quality journalism as a public good, as Sweden, among others, has done. As the state of today’s media shows, it won’t happen on its own.
Director, IRIN News