Freedom of expression faces a universal challenge, much greater this century. As per UN report, “Over700 journalists in the past decade have been reportedly killed for bringing news and information to the public and hardly 10 per cent were convicted”. While the transformation of the media landscape has opened up exciting opportunities for exchange and dialogue, the old challenges remain strong, and new threats to freedom of expression are emerging. Many nations continue to criminalise expressions and, the safety of media professionals is worsening, some still languishing in prison for wrong reasons. Also, the digital era has given rise to novel forms of censorship.
According to Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, “The threat is grave. On average, one journalist is killed per week and while fatalities include foreign correspondents, the vast majority of victims are locals, living in a climate of impunity”. Impunity is perilous and leads to self-censorship for fear of reprisal, depriving society of sources of vital information. Media and expressions of culture including cinema, art and writing have to do the tightrope walking. The increase in conflicts poses specific threats for media workers across the spectrum from mainstream journalists to local bloggers. Other risks include intimidation, arrest, detention, as well as entry bans and deportation.
In many cases, as governments are involved in actions against journalists, there is a need for an effective international body. Many untold stories need to be unfolded. Nearly all the victims reported on corruption, like freelance journalist Jagendra Singh, who died earlier this year from burn wounds. Singh reported on illegal mining activities in U.P.
Impunity enjoyed by the murders has a debilitating effect on free and objective reporting. Reporters working in the risk-prone regions are under extreme pressure from drug traffickers, guerilla groups and corrupt politicians. Impunity, if not curbed, becomes incentive for further attacks. Without freedom of expression, democracy is illusion. The most vulnerable reporters are those who expose collusion between organised crime and politicians. Significant questions and opinions about the killings of journalists cannot be raised for fear of the gruesome repercussions. As a result, vital information about the unlawful killings is not available.
Efforts by journalists in search of remedies are ineffective due to the absence of functional justice systems that can effectively deal with impunity. The lack of trained and skilled personnel to investigate and adjudicate on these matters, combined with inadequate and weak accountability greatly hinders journalists’ efforts to obtain justice. The insecurity and risks faced by journalists are exacerbated by the fact that press workers cannot necessarily rely on the police to protect them from assaults.
This is a day to remind governments to respect their commitments to press freedom, remember those media persons who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession, assess the state of press freedom worldwide and alert the public on the importance of freedom of press.