Press freedom and information as a public good
DefendDefenders commemorates World Press Freedom Day, that is dedicated to raising awareness and celebrating the importance of press freedom. It is also a reminder to governments of the need to respect and uphold the right to freedom of opinion and expression as enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; as well as respect their commitment to press freedom. This year’s theme, ‘Information as a public good’ focuses on the importance of cherishing information as public good and exploring what needs to be done to strengthen journalism; and to advance transparency. DefendDefefenders also pays tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released its annual Press Freedom Index analysing the state of press freedom in 180 countries. The report reflects on deterioration in press freedom, as governments have imposed media restrictions as an official pandemic response. According to the report, 73% of the 180 countries face some form of restrictions when reporting.
The East and Horn of Africa sub-region continues to experience restrictions of civic space. The right to freedom of opinion and expression continues to be violated by multiple governments in the region. Journalists face harassment, threats, detentions, arbitrary arrests, physical attacks, and even murder in some countries. The shrinking civic space creates an environment where journalists self-censor ultimately having an adverse impact on citizens’ access to information.
On a positive note, Burundi made significant improvements ranking 147th out of 180 countries, an increase of 13 ranks from the 2020 Index. This is due to several positive changes, including the release of the four Iwacu journalists and the government’s efforts to resume a dialogue with banned local media. Kenya and Somalia also increased in rankings.
Despite Tanzania remaining in the same ranking, new President Samia Suluhu Hassan, offers hope for new reforms aiming to open civic space and safeguarding the rights of journalists. In a speech made in April, she indicated that she intended to uphold freedom of expression, including online freedom. She called on the Ministry of Information, Culture, Arts and Sports to lift the ban on all media outlets that were suspended or punished. While lifting the suspension shows a positive step towards improving civic space, we urge President Hassan to implement press freedom reforms and bring media laws in line with international standards to prevent the threat of censorship.
However, Eritrea remains the most closed country as reflected by the index. The media is fully run by the government, and accessing credible news is extremely challenging. South Sudan, Rwanda, and Ethiopia dropped in rankings as the media continue to face severe restrictions.
‘As we celebrate World Press Freedom Day, I urge governments to reflect on the importance of press freedom in line with this year’s theme. Information is indeed a public good that enables citizens to exercise their voices, to effectively monitor and hold governments accountable. Journalists should therefore be protected for their crucial role in this process.’
Hassan Shire, Executive Director, DefendDefenders.
For more information, please contact:
Executive Director, DefendDefenders; [email protected] or +256 772 753 753 (English and Somali)
Advocacy, Research and Communications Manager, DefendDefenders; [email protected] or +256 782 360 460 (English)