What would the world look like without independent journalists? A question that can be answered by looking at countries where press freedom has been curtailed to a minimum and journalists have been gagged: Russia, China, North Korea. Countries where you can only speak in hushed tones, where all public publications pass through a very fine government filter and where, above all, a great deal remains hidden. Countries that provide people with blinkers, impenetrable tunnel visions and (enforced) docility with the status quo, that is determined by those in power.
In an ideal world, everyone has access to independent, reliable and timely information. This is a human right. It enables people to assess their own living conditions, influence them and make the right decisions. Press freedom is indispensable for this.
Press freedom enables journalists to do their work freely and unhindered, which is vital for making and keeping reliable, independent information available to everyone. And this in turn is essential for sustainable growth and development in a society. Independent media fulfill an essential social role in holding power accountable and representing the voice of the people.
Journalists are the guardians of democracy
Independent media and journalists are the fourth estate in society, that hold decision-makers and power holders accountable in the interest of the people. This is essential in a democracy. Therefore, a democratic society is not possible without journalists. Without independent journalism in all its aspects, control of government, parliament, judiciary and business is not possible.
If a “handbook for a dictatorship” existed, suppressing the free press would undoubtedly be very high on the action list. Besides eliminating parliament and controlling the military, silencing independent journalism is one of the most important goals for a budding dictator. What that can lead to we are now seeing in Europe, where Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship with its unprecedented suppression of the press has paved the way for a pointless war with Ukraine.
This, combined with an information war in which one’s own agenda is pushed as the truth, makes protecting freedom of the press and strong, independent journalism more important than ever. Everywhere in the world, including democratic countries.
Press freedom under pressure all over the world
In recent years, we have seen increasing pressure on press freedom worldwide, and especially on journalists personally. Psychological and physical threats are on the rise. This can also be seen in the large increase in the number of emergency aid requests that Free Press Unlimited has received over the past period. This year, Free Press Unlimited has already helped 2260 journalists with an emergency appeal, compared to over 750 in 2020.
In more and more countries, human rights, democratic values, and with them press freedom, are under attack. The COVID-19 pandemic, the crises in Myanmar, Afghanistan, Nicaragua and the war in Ukraine have reinforced this. If press freedom was seen as a given in democratic countries, it is certainly no longer the case. The importance of journalism for the survival of our democratic rule of law must be put high on the agenda.
Freedom of the press against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine
The run-up to the war in Ukraine highlighted what the absence of a free press, and a state monopoly on information, can lead to. In Russia, the past 10-20 years have seen systematic efforts to reduce the free press in favor of an information system that has been brought under the complete control of state power. By giving the population only limited insight into what is happening in the world for years, a climate has slowly but surely developed in which a large part of the population supports the invasion of Ukraine. The fact that this has happened in Europe in the past 10 years makes it clear that press freedom is not (anymore) a given. A clear wake-up call.
If democratic countries want to stop the spread of authoritarianism, they need to invest in good, reliable information flows to inform citizens. Which means investing in journalism. The answer is not to impose censorship, but to offer alternatives to propaganda.
Journalists deserve our full support
Journalists deserve support and protection from everyone who stands for an open and democratic society. Communicating the importance of their work is extremely important. As many people as possible should understand that freedom of the press and independent journalism is something to defend and propagate together. Press freedom also has an impact on you. What would your world be like without press freedom? Closed, dangerous, uncertain. How can you continue to develop yourself without access to reliable information?
Free Press Unlimited stands firmly behind this and does so in its daily work worldwide. We keep journalists safe in Ukraine by relocating them to safe places or providing them with bulletproof vests through our Media Lifeline Ukraine initiative, we invest in and train investigative journalism in the Baltic countries, rebuild radio stations in communities in CAR, and facilitate knowledge exchange between journalists in Latin America and Central Europe. And much more.
We need to protect and nurture journalists, for a society where everyone has access to reliable information and where you as a citizen can trust the press as the watchdog of democracy.
About Free Press Unlimited
In our ideal world everyone has access to independent, reliable and timely information. People need that information to control their living conditions and to make the right decisions. To make this possible, Free Press Unlimited supports media and journalists worldwide. Our vision is short and to the point: “People deserve to know”.
Free Press Unlimited (FPU) is an international press freedom organisation, based in Amsterdam with 70 passionate professionals. They work together with 120 partners worldwide to protect and promote press freedom and keep journalists safe.