UN expert warns of dangerous decline in media freedom – Reuters

Reporters get killed while chasing a story. Online attacks against female journalists, including death and rape threats. Targeted electronic surveillance to intimidate and silence investigative journalism.

This is the dangerous reality for many journalists around the world, as media freedom and safety have diminished in the digital age, with a serious impact on human rights, democracy and development, warned a UN expert.

“The decline in media freedom and the increase in threats to the safety of journalists is a global trend, most evident in regressing democracies and recalcitrant totalitarian states,” said Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on promotion and protection of the right to liberty. of opinion and expression. “The implications for human rights, democracy, public participation and development are concerning.”

In a report to the Human Rights Council, Khan said digital technology has opened up great opportunities for journalists and media freedom, including groundbreaking investigative reporting, cross-border collaboration, fact-checking with the public and access to treasures of data and sources. .

However, Khan pointed out that the digital age also poses serious challenges and threats. As examples, she cited online and offline attacks and the killing of journalists with impunity; criminalization and harassment of journalists; and the erosion of independence, freedom and plurality of voices and opinions in state and corporate media, including digital companies.

“Silencing journalists by killing them is the most egregious form of censorship,” Khan said, urging the council to consider measures to tackle impunity, including an international task force on prevention, investigation and continued attacks on journalists.

She quoted a database compiled by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) which reported that 455 journalists were killed in the line of duty between 2016 and 2021. In more than eight out of ten cases, the perpetrators have not been brought to justice.

Online attacks against female journalists

The report draws particular attention to online attacks against women journalists, which are often vicious, coordinated and highly sexualized, and which target women from religious and ethnic minorities or gender non-conforming people.

“Such violence inflicts very real psychological wounds, chills public interest journalism, kills women’s careers and robs society of important voices and perspectives,” the report said.

“Free, independent and diverse media guarantee society’s right to know, as well as the right of journalists to seek, receive and disseminate information.

The old practice of misusing laws – from defamation laws to anti-terrorism legislation – to punish journalists and suppress media freedom has been revived by some states with new ferocity, the report adds.

Khan cited the case of Filipino Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa, who faced a wave of lawsuits in the Philippines for her critical reporting on former President Rodrigo Duterte.

Erosion of independence and pluralism

Khan also pointed to the erosion of media independence, pluralism and economic viability in the digital age.

In a number of countries, including in Central and Eastern Europe, there is a creeping trend of state control over public media and favoring private media that serve the political or economic interests of power.

Khan also said that media sustainability is a human rights issue, not just an economics issue. The collapse of the advertising-based news media business model in the digital age has led to staff cuts and media closures in many countries. While some national and international news providers and niche news producers manage through subscriptions, paywalls, reader contributions and subsidies, many others could face media extinction.

“In a world where disinformation is increasingly masquerading as information and where authoritarian and populist leaders attack journalists and the media to sow public distrust, independent critical journalism produced in the public interest is essential. Its absence or decline in many countries represents a major assault on media freedom,” the report warns.

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