World Press Freedom Day

Journalism Under Digital Siege

Are there limits to what can be uttered and what can not be uttered in a newspaper? To what extent are journalists allowed to write the truth and nothing but the truth? What does press even mean to the people? As the voices of students, Echo celebrates this year’s World Press Freedom Day which falls on the 3rd of May 2022. World Press Freedom Day was announced by the UN General Assembly back in 1993. This was first raised in the UN General Assembly in 1991, after African journalists created the landmark Windhoek Declaration on media pluralism and independence.

This day honours what the press has stood for and will stand for in the future, with the aim of reminding ruling governments throughout the globe to respect press freedom and serving as a reflection to media professionals in terms of ethics and issues related to the press.

The Importance of Press

Admittedly, it is amazing how words in an article, a blog or a write-up have the power to influence an individual’s perspective, their thought process and their opinions. However, before newspapers, televisions and blogs came along, there was word of mouth. Of course, this method was unreliable as the facts of an event kept on straying far away from the truth-more commonly known as gossip. The first true newspaper was the weekly Relation aller Fuernemmen und gedenckwürdigen Historien (“Collection of all distinguished and memorable news’ ‘), published by Johann Carolus in 1609 in Strasbourg. Today we have press in various forms, all at one’s fingertips.

Why does press pose as a must or even a need in one’s life? Since the early days, the press has been a source of information or  means to gain knowledge. Nowadays, a newspaper contains multiple segments, for example,  current events within a country, events occurring in foreign countries, business, sports, entertainment and the list goes on and on.

World politics is also influenced by the press. What is reported, instigated and probed by the press remains to be the core in changing people’s opinions. All it takes is one article. People obtain and gather information from the press. The activities carried out by the government, the ruling in parliaments, the state of a politician is all gathered and surmised here. It is the words of the press that mostly determines the views of the people.

To deliver the absolute truth and  to enlighten the people of what is going on in and outside a country is what the press stands for. As such, the press must have the right to publish issues related to a current event or occurrence without fear in the form of freedom of speech. In most countries, the freedom of expressing oneself is a fundamental right of the individual.

Before Malaysia or other countries such as Indonesia obtained independence, the press proved to function as an avenue to spread awareness among the people and raise their spirits during troubling times. To this day, the press will forever be a medium of delivering information and the truth to the public.

The Suppression of Press in the past

Over the years since its invention, there have been many instances of press suppression. This can manifest in a myriad of forms, from small acts of censorship to more drastic measures such as imprisoning journalists, and in some dictatorships, sentencing them to death. Suppression of the free press is a common tool used by those in power to prevent evidence and descriptions of their wrongdoings from the public. After all, an uninformed public is easy to manipulate and control. 

One example to imagine is the violation of the rights of the free press  in Nazi Germany. After their rise to power in 1933, the Nazi’s organized the mass burnings of over 25,000 books considered “un-german” in an effort to prevent the widespread of ideas that could challenge their regime. This, among many other acts, paved the way for a dictatorship that silenced the press in order to keep their unchecked power. 

Another example of press censorship in the past was enacted by the Soviet Union, where any literature criticising the communist party was made illegal. This prevented journalists from commenting on any flaws of a country or talking about the human right’s abuses openly taking place in the nation as well. This, together with the NKVD (soviet secret police) repressing and intimidating those who dared to speak out against the dictatorship, resulted in the establishment of a police state.

One common trend in most countries that oppress the press is that they go on to replace newspapers and radio broadcasts with propaganda and indoctrination. Which is often a mean to create complacency and content among the general public. Hence, implying how censorship of the press can lead to catastrophic consequences. 

Above is the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Here, the organisation ranks all countries based on their treatment of reporters and the ability reporters have to spread the news on events in the country without censorship. 

From this chart, we can view a few trends. The first being that most “first world countries” score relatively high on the index, with Scandinavian countries occupying the top spots, followed by the rest of Europe, the U.S and Canada. As a result of increased public polarisation and the adoption of a new era of digital journalism, the countries that many would expect to be the most free scored lower on the chart.

On the other hand, a more disturbing trend can be seen in Asia and the middle-east. Countries like China and Russia scored quite low on the charts, due to active censorship and propaganda campaigns taking place. Middle-eastern regimes expectedly scored low due to their dictatorship nature. Also why Myanmar’s military coup of 2021 scored low rankings where journalists were harshly repressed. 

So where is Malaysia in all of this? Well, our country has improved since last year, rising up 9 spots to reach the 113th spot. However, there is still room for improvement as the RSF found that reporters have been harassed, and there are laws preventing criticism on what is considered a “sensitive topic”.

Why is trust in the Press decaying?

Recently, a trend of mistrust and scepticism has emerged towards traditional media. According to Axios.com, trust in media has plunged to an “all-time low” of about 27% in America. Why has this happened? Well there are a variety of factors to consider.

Many people now believe that the media carry some form of bias, whether that be towards a political party, or in other forms. During the pandemic, rumours on topics like the vaccination and contact-tracing did spread, fuelled on by speculation. As a result, people have begun to source for their own information, from all sorts of sources – trustworthy or not. 

With trust in the press falling, the people are searching for a source of pure, unbiased, unobstructed information. Whilst the internet can provide information at an instant, there is no guarantee that it fulfils this criteria. 

Echo and the Freedom of Press

Echo Media, as a form of press, is and will continue to be the true essence of press.To be a medium to express one’s opinion and to steadily deliver current events and trends. Most of all to spread awareness and joy to the readers. Echo prides itself with its entertaining contents and topics of discussion that engages readers.

Freedom of press is a right to pen down one’s thought and opinion related to an event, or even a simple thought that may have the power to sway the thoughts of others. Because of its role in forming a society, it is crucial to comprehend the importance of the press at all stages of life. After all, speaking one’s mind is a basic human right

Written By: Matthew & Poorani

Edited by: Jamie

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