World Press Freedom Day, 2009

UNESCO Freedom of Information logoToday is World Press Freedom Day. According to Koïchiro Matsuura, Director General of UNESCO [with added links]:

Every year, World Press Freedom Day provides an opportunity to affirm the importance of freedom of expression and press freedom – a fundamental human right enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On World Press Freedom Day 2009 UNESCO is highlighting the potential of the media to foster dialogue, mutual understanding and reconciliation …

WAN WPFD banners, via the WAN website.The World Association of Newspapers has an excellent website for the day, on the theme of Journalists in the Firing Line:

As they investigate sensitive issues, unveil disturbing truths and question policies, journalists find themselves in the firing line of those directly or indirectly exposed by their reports. … On World Press Freedom Day, the World Association of Newspapers will present the story of many journalists whose work upsets and can sometimes undo the powerful. What do they report on, how and at what price? …

Map of Press Freedom, via Freedom HouseThe position worldwide is disquieting. First Amendment Law Prof reproduces some sobering statisticss from the annual Freedom House report (pdf | html, from which the map of press freedom at the start of this paragraph is taken):

* 2009 marked the seventh straight year in declining press freedom worldwide;
* over 80% of the world’s inhabitants live in a country where the press is either “not free” or only “partly free” to operate;
* Israel, Italy and Hong Kong, fell to “partly free” because of increased threats to media independence and diversity;
* the U.S. fell one spot to #18 for the same reason;
* Iraq, at #148, is still “not free.”

According to the tables (pdf), the free-est is Iceland, and the least free is North Korea; Ireland is equal fourteenth worldwide, and twelfth in Western Europe. But this is no reason for complacency. On the Index on Censorship blog yesterday, Michael Foley wrote:

It might be fanciful, but what better way to celebrate World Press Freedom Day than for governments to acknowledge the fundamental and central role journalism plays in democracy and in creating a democractic culture. Would it not be good if on this day governments said they would desist from announcing legislation that slowly chips away at press freedom?

In Ireland we are about to have a blasphemy law and privacy legislation introduced, unless, in the unlikely event, there is a successful campaign against it. We have seen our freedom of information legislation made less effective and editors have been harrassed in order to have sources revealed. The press has waited 18 years for libel reform, since a Law Reform Commission recommended changes in 1991. …