Representatives of the German sections of Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International rally in front of the Turkish Embassy in Berlin for the protection of freedom of the press and freedom of expression. Jan Scheunert/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.
Rising authoritarianism and regressive politics signal a new front in the fight to protect and extend press freedom – and the right of citizens to be informed. Globally journalists are on the front line of a sustained assault on civic freedoms from state and non-state actors.
The determination of populist leaders to shape and control dominant narratives, together with the rise of fake news, extremist groups and increasing commercial pressure means journalists now not only face detention without trial and criminalisation for doing their jobs, they also face physical attacks, loss of life and livelihoods.
The CIVICUS Monitor, a new online platform that assesses the quality of civic space in every country, records 101 attacks on journalists between June 2016 and March 2017. It indicates that journalists are often at risk of attack for reporting on political issues, protests, conflicts and state corruption.
The International Press Institute (IPI) provides further evidence of the risks that journalists face, reporting that at least 83 journalists died as a direct result of their practice in 2016, with almost half of all deaths occurring when journalists were covering armed conflict, particularly in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
The findings underline the inextricable link between media freedom and civil society freedom - where one is weakened, so is the other. If dissent is to be accepted as an essential part of participatory democracy, then the essential civil society freedoms – of association and peaceful assembly, as well as expression – must be fought for.
“At a time when independent, critical journalism is desperately needed, such journalism is desperately assailed. A free and independent media is a key ally of civil society in the quest for sustainable development, social justice and human rights Attacks on the media usually go hand-in-hand with attacks on civil society, and are a barometer of the levels of injustice, corruption and authoritarianism in any society,” warns Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS.
“The fight against the current regressive politics, in defence of human rights, can only be won if stronger connections are made between civil society and independent media. We are being attacked together, we must fight back together’, concludes Tiwana.