Mightier Than The Sword

Today, May 3rd, marks the 30th anniversary of UN World Press Freedom Day. Created to celebrate The Windhoek Declaration, its purpose is to champion all aspects of press freedom and to acknowledge the bravery and tenacity of journalists globally.  

A free press is one of the cornerstones of any democratic society, and the Windhoek Declaration stands as one of the most remarkable contributions to international journalistic protection. Named after the Namibian capital, the declaration itself has been recognised as fundamental in not only solidifying independent and pluralistic press infrastructures around the world, but for also being the inspiration behind subsequent documents including the Alma-Ata Declaration, the Sana’a Declaration, and the Santiago Declaration, spreading the influence of these principles to the global stage.

We continue to live in a world fraught with crises and threats, both local and existential. From the ongoing brutal war in Ukraine to the displacement of the Rohingya in South-East Asia, from climate change to corruption - the need for honest, accessible, and trustworthy journalism has arguably never been stronger. While we experience these shocks, we are simultaneously existing in a period where deception through interference and all-out prohibition through internet shutdowns is all too rife. There are well documented instances of such interventions in recent times, including Myanmar and Iran to name but two, and of course the ease of manipulation of facts across social media, exacerbated by the rise of cheap and convincing generative artificial intelligence.

Technology has a huge role to play in enabling the free and open communication of individuals and groups around the world today. Without cell towers, sat phones and the internet, we return to the myopic microcosms from whence we came, the opposite of today’s global society. For every offence, there can be a defence, and technology such as VPNs and secure and reliable hardware can help in the strive for freedom. But as we all know, in a battle of resources the wealthier and better-equipped actor frequently triumphs, and this has been the case with many occurrences in the recent past.

This World Press Freedom Day, WEDF would like to acknowledge and celebrate the work of fearless journalists around the world, including some we are honoured to have hosted at previous World Ethical Data Fora and live Q&A sessions, and have continued to work with since.

This includes award-winning, internationally recognised and thoroughly principled investigative journalist Nick Davies, who we were truly privileged to welcome to our Forum in 2021. At the heart of Nick’s work is the exposure of abuses of power - society owes a lot to individuals who dedicate themselves to such endeavours, often putting themselves at risk.

Another one of these individuals is Than Win Htut, Director of News and Current Affairs at the Democratic Voice of Burma newspaper. Our audience and team alike were struck by Than’s harrowing account of life as a journalist under the rule of the Myanmar military junta, and it was a privilege to have been able to offer our global platform to Than to tell his story. The unforgiving military dictatorship currently in place in Myanmar has severely restricted contact with the outside world and makes reporting on the atrocities and crimes taking place daily, a punishing task.

Forced into exile to continue guiding his admirable team of fearless reporters and researchers, Than delivered a keynote address at WEDF 2022, which you can view here, and graciously joined us again to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the military coup with a live audience Q&A, presenting a unique opportunity to hear from somebody on the front line of these battles which you can view here.

A member of the WEDF team recently attended a committee session on press freedom at the UK House of Lords, hearing from those running organisations designed to protect journalists, as well as first hand experience from those on the ground. One such committee speaker was Amberin Zaman, a Turkish journalist who has been subject to appalling and frequent attacks and comments from her own government. Singled out for reporting on government corruption, Kurdish affairs, and other such topics the Erdoğan government would rather left untouched, Amberin is as a result now effectively banned from re-entering her home country for fear of arrest. You can read some of her latest work including her recent travels to Syria on Al-Monitor’s website , and stay up to date with her work directly via Twitter.

Organisations you can show support to and promote to help with this cause include the Justice for Journalists Foundation, Centre for Freedom of the Media, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and Reporters sans Frontiers. WEDF would encourage you all this World Press Freedom Day to spare a thought for those fighting for the proliferation of truth, pulling back the curtain, and keeping the lights on even in the darkest of days.