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A free press is not a choice, but a necessity
by Reporters Without Borders, UNESCO, agencies
9:50am 8th May, 2024
May 2024
"Without press freedom, we won't have any freedom. A free press is not a choice, but a necessity" - Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General
"The world is going through an unprecedented environmental emergency which poses an existential threat to this and future generations. People need to know about this – and journalists and media workers have a key role in informing and educating them.
Local, national and global media outlets can highlight stories about the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and environmental injustice.
Through their work, people come to understand the plight of our planet, and are mobilized and empowered to take action for change.
Media workers also document environmental degradation. And they provide evidence of environmental vandalism that helps to hold those responsible to account.
It is no surprise that some powerful people, companies and institutions will stop at nothing to prevent environmental journalists from doing their jobs.
Media freedom is under siege. And environmental journalism is an increasingly dangerous profession. Dozens of journalists covering illegal mining, logging, poaching and other environmental issues have been killed in recent decades. In the vast majority of cases, no one has been held to account.
UNESCO reports that in the past fifteen years, there have been some 750 attacks on journalists and news outlets reporting on environmental issues. And the frequency of such attacks is rising.
Legal processes are also misused to censor, silence, detain and harass environmental reporters, while a new era of climate disinformation focuses on undermining proven solutions, including renewable energy.
But environmental journalists are not the only ones at risk. Around the world, media workers are risking their lives trying to bring us news on everything from war to democracy. I am shocked and appalled by the high number of journalists killed in Israeli military operations in Gaza.
The United Nations recognizes the invaluable work of journalists and media professionals to ensure that the public is informed and engaged.
Without facts, we cannot fight mis- and disinformation. Without accountability, we will not have strong policies in place. Without press freedom, we won't have any freedom. A free press is not a choice, but a necessity.
Our World Press Freedom Day is very important. And so, I call on governments, the private sector and civil society to join us in reaffirming our commitment to safeguarding press freedom and the rights of journalists and media professionals around the world".
Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO:
"The planet is on the brink of a climatic precipice: 2023 was the hottest year on record, with an average global surface temperature 1.45°C higher than in the pre-industrial era. Other alarming records were also broken for ocean surface temperatures, sea level rise and glacier retreat. As humanity faces up to this existential peril, we must remember, on this World Press Freedom Day, that the climate challenge is also a journalistic and informational challenge. No effective climate action is possible without access to free and reliable scientific information.
That is why this year’s theme highlights the essentiallink between protecting freedom of expression – a global public good – and preserving our planet. But this World Day is also a call to action to protect journalism and free, pluralistic information.
A call to make the major social networks more accountable, so that they can step up their moderation and regulation measures to counter disinformation and conspiracy around climate change, in line with the Guidelines for the Governance of Digital Platforms published by UNESCO in November 2023.
A call to equip all citizens with the critical thinking skills needed to confront disinformation. A call, also, to protect journalists and media professionals, artists and scientists, who are all too often the victims of harassment, violence and censorship. A UNESCO study published this month shows that 70% of environmental reporters have been the victims of attacks, threats or pressure because of their work, and 44 environmental journalists have been killed in the last 15 years.
Access to reliable information is all the more vital in this “super-election year”, when some 2.6 billion citizens are called to the polls. How can voters remain masters of their own destiny if their choices are distorted by false information and polarized by hate speech?
UNESCO remains firmly committed to defending freedom of expression as a fundamental human right and a pillar of democracy. UNESCO would like to relay a simple message: protecting free and pluralistic information also means protecting our democracies and our planet".
May 2024
2024 World Press Freedom Index. (Reporters Without Borders)
Press freedom around the world is being threatened by the very people who should be its guarantors – political authorities. This is clear from the latest annual World Press Freedom Index produced by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
This finding is based on the fact that, of the five indicators used to compile the ranking, it is the political indicator that has fallen most, registering a global average fall of 7.6 points.
Governments fail to protect journalism
A growing number of governments and political authorities are not fulfilling their role as guarantors of the best possible environment for journalism and for the public's right to reliable, independent, and diverse news and information. RSF sees a worrying decline in support and respect for media autonomy and an increase in pressure from the state or other political actors.
As more than half the world's population goes to the polls in 2024, RSF is warning of a worrying trend revealed by the 2024 World Press Freedom Index: a decline in the political indicator, one of five indicators detailed in the Index.
"States and other political forces are playing a decreasing role in protecting press freedom. This disempowerment sometimes goes hand in hand with more hostile actions that undermine the role of journalists, or even instrumentalise the media through campaigns of harassment or disinformation". - Anne Bocande, RSF editorial director
At the international level, this year is notable for a clear lack of political will on the part of the international community to enforce the principles of protection of journalists, especially UN Security Council Resolution 2222. The war in Gaza has been marked by a record number of violations against journalists and the media since October 2023. More than 100 Palestinian reporters have been killed by the Israel Defence Forces, including at least 22 in the course of their work.
Occupied and under constant Israeli bombardment, Palestine is ranked 157th out of 180 countries and territories surveyed in the overall 2024 World Press Freedom Index, but it is ranked among the last 10 with regard to security for journalists (see the 2024 World Press Freedom Index security ranking).
Journalism vs disinformation in a super election year
While 2024 is the biggest election year in world history, 2023 also saw decisive elections, especially in Latin America, that were won by self-proclaimed predators of press freedom and media plurality, like Javier Milei in Argentina (down 26 to 66th), who shut down the country’s biggest news agency in a worrisome symbolic act.
Elections are often accompanied by violence against journalists, as in Nigeria (112th) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (123rd). The military juntas that seized power in coups in the Sahel, especially Niger (down 19 to 80th), Burkina Faso (down 28 to 86th) and Mali (down one to 114th), continue to tighten their grip on the media and obstruct journalists’ work. Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s reelection in Türkiye is also a source of some concern: ranked 158th, the country’s placement in the Index continues to lose points in the Index.
In the absence of regulation, the use of generative AI in the arsenal of disinformation for political purposes is a concern. Deepfakes now occupy a leading position in influencing the course of elections.
This was evidenced by the audio deepfake of the journalist Monika Todova during the parliamentary elections in Slovakia (down 12 to 29th), one of the first documented cases of this type of attack on a journalist with the aim of influencing the outcome of a democratic election.
Many governments have stepped up their control over social media and the Internet, restricting access, blocking accounts, and suppressing messages carrying news and information. Journalists who say what they think on social media in Vietnam (174th) are almost systematically locked up.
In China (172nd), in addition to detaining more journalists than any other country in the world, the government continues to exercise strict control over information channels, implementing censorship and surveillance policies to regulate online content and restrict the spread of information deemed to be sensitive or contrary to the party line.
Some political groups fuel hatred and distrust of journalists by insulting them, discrediting them, and threatening them. Others are orchestrating a takeover of the media ecosystem, whether through state-owned media under their control, or privately owned media via acquisitions by allied businessmen.
Giorgia Meloni’s Italy (46th) – where a member of the ruling parliamentary coalition is trying to acquire the second biggest news agency (AGI) – has fallen five places this year.
Political groups often serve as channels of dissemination, or even instigators of disinformation campaigns. In more than three quarters of the countries evaluated in the Index (138 countries), the majority of the questionnaire respondents reported that political actors in their countries were often involved in propaganda or disinformation campaigns. This involvement was described as “systematic” in 31 countries.
In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, media censorship has intensified in a spectacular mimicry of Russian repressive methods, especially in Belarus (down 10 to 167th), Georgia (103rd), Kyrgyzstan (120th), and Azerbaijan (down 13 to 164th). Kremlin influence has reached as far as Serbia (down seven to 98th), where pro-government media carry Russian propaganda and the authorities threaten exiled Russian journalists. Russia (162nd), where Vladimir Putin was unsurprisingly reelected in 2024, continues to wage a war in Ukraine (61st) that has had a big impact on the media ecosystem and journalists’ safety.
The best and the worst
The overall decline in the political indicator has also affected the trio at the top of the World Press Freedom Index. Norway, still in first place, has seen a fall in its political score, and Ireland (8th), where politicians have subjected media outlets to judicial intimidation, has ceded its leading position in the European Union to Denmark (2nd), followed by Sweden (3rd).
The three Asian countries at the bottom of last year’s Index – Vietnam, China and North Korea – have ceded their positions to three countries whose political scores have plummeted: Afghanistan (down 44 in the political ranking), which has persecuted journalists incessantly since the Taliban returned to power; Syria (down eight in the political ranking); and Eritrea (down nine in the political ranking), which is now last in both the political and overall rankings. The last two countries have become lawless zones for the media, with a record number of journalists detained, missing or held hostage.
The Index by regions
The Maghreb - Middle East region is the one with the worst situation in the 2024 World Press Freedom Index. It is followed by the Asia-Pacific region, where journalism is suffocating under the weight of authoritarian governments. Africa, although less than 10% of the region is in a “very serious” situation, almost half of the countries are in a “difficult” situation.
The countries where press freedom is “good” are all in Europe, and more specifically within the European Union, which has adopted its first media freedom law (EMFA). Ireland has dropped out of the Index’s top three countries, replaced by Sweden, while Germany is now one of the top ten countries. Press freedom is nonetheless being put to the test in Hungary, Malta and Greece, the three lowest-ranked EU countries.
Further east in Europe, the conditions for practising journalism are deteriorating due to the scale of disinformation and censorship of media outlets falsely accused of undermining national security or terrorism. This is the case in Russia (162nd), Belarus (167th) and Turkmenistan (175th), while in Georgia (down 26 to 103rd), the ruling party is cultivating a rapprochement with Moscow. As a result of improvements in its security indicator – fewer journalists killed – and its political indicator, Ukraine (61st) has moved up 18 places.
In the Americas, the inability of journalists to cover subjects related to organised crime, corruption or the environment for fear of reprisals poses a major problem. The percentage of countries whose situation is classified as “satisfactory” (yellow) has drastically dropped from 36% in 2023 to 21% in 2024. One of the world’s biggest economic powers, the United States, has fallen ten places.
In almost all of the countries in South America, the press freedom situation is now “problematic” – a deterioration due in part to the election of press freedom predators such as Javier Milei and governments’ inability to reduce violence against journalists. Mexico continues to be the most dangerous country for journalists, with 37 killed since 2019.
Sub-Saharan Africa was very affected by political violence during major elections in 2023. More than 8% of African countries are now coloured red on the chart, twice as many as in 2023. Nigeria, Togo and Madagascar have been hit by waves of repression of reporters. The region is marked by the decline in security in several Sahel countries – Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali.
In the Asia-Pacific region – the world’s second most difficult region for practising journalism – five countries are among the world’s ten most dangerous countries for media personnel: Myanmar (171st), China (172nd), North Korea (177th), Vietnam (174th) and Afghanistan (178th). But, unlike last year, none of the region’s countries is in the Index’s top 15.
In the Middle East and North Africa, the situation is “very serious” in nearly half of the countries. The United Arab Emirates joins the eight other countries in the red zone on the map: Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Palestine, Iraq, Bahrain, Syria and Egypt. Palestine, occupied and under bombardment by the Israeli army, and the deadliest country for journalists, is also at the bottom of the Index. Qatar is now the region’s only country where the situation is not classified either as “difficult” or “very serious.”
In all regions of the world, upcoming elections portend very strong pressure on journalists.

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