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Why World Press Freedom Day matters

By Audrey Azoulay

Whether in the context of COVID-19 or during war and conflict, reliable information is more than necessary: it is vital.

Journalists play an essential role in providing this information.

They assess, investigate and disseminate facts, ensuring people can make informed decisions.

Journalism is therefore a public good, which we must defend and support as such.

Yet even as the United Nations marks the 10th anniversary of its Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which UNESCO is proud to lead, journalists are facing a fast-evolving environment.

As our newest World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development report shows, more than five in six people around the world live in a country that experienced a decline in press freedom over the past five years.

Some 400 journalists were killed during the same period just for doing their jobs.

Digital technologies are further revolutionising this landscape.

They have permitted unprecedented exchanges of information, supporting journalism across borders.

We can now see what happens in any corner of the world, at any time.

But these opportunities come with new challenges.

The advent of online platforms has called into question the economic viability of independent and pluralistic media, upending existing value chains and business models.

The digital era has also put media workers and their sources at greater risk of being targeted, harassed and attacked – for instance, due to data retention, spyware and digital surveillance.

Expressions of hatred against journalists have spiralled, affecting women journalists in particular.

Our research shows that more than seven out of 10 women reporters surveyed have experienced online violence.

And as few of these technologies are regulated transparently and with accountability, perpetrators of violence operate with impunity, often without leaving a trace.

This must end.

Technological advances need to be underpinned by respect for the freedom, privacy and safety of journalists.

Social media networks must especially do more to tackle rampant disinformation and hate speech, while protecting freedom of expression.

UNESCO is firmly committed to these goals.

But we all must do more to address the risks and seize the opportunities of the digital age.

On this World Press Freedom Day, I invite Member States, technology companies, the media community, as well as the rest of civil society to come together to develop a new digital configuration – one that protects both journalism and journalists.

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay’s message to mark World Press Freedom Day.


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