People's Stories Freedom

World Press Freedom Day - Critical Minds for Critical Times
by UNESCO, agencies
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Jakarta, Indonesia
Critical Minds for Critical Times: Media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies.
Every year, 3 May is a date which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.
This year UNESCO World Press Freedom Day activities were held in Jakarta, Indonesia, from 1-4 May 2017, involving participants from around the world.
‘Fake News’ is not Journalism, highlights Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO.
Would you trust your news from any source? How are we able to ensure that ‘fake’(d) news does not overtake the flow of information?
Journalism plays a vital role for society, bringing verifiable news and informed comment to the public. Every day, the news provides a basis for dialogue and debate, and to make informed decisions on the issues that affect us.
It helps us build our identity and, as global citizens, better understand the world around us; it contributes to meaningful changes towards a better future.
Today, however, news producers face many challenges. In depth and fact checked news is being overshadowed by shared media content that is all too often far from this standard.
On social media in particular, collecting clicks and being first reign supreme over properly verified news and comment. All this further compounds long existing problems of unjustifiable curbs on press freedom in many parts of the world.
In these circumstances, where does the responsibility lie for ensuring that fact-based debate is not stifled? Whose duty is it to strengthen the media’s potential to foster a better future for all?
And how do we protect the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and freedom of information, which are the preconditions for independent and free journalism?
The answer is that we must look to ourselves as agents of change – whether we are Government actors, civil society members, business people, academics or members of the media. Each of us has a role to play, because each has a stake in press freedom, which facilitates our ability to seek, receive and impart information.
What happens to journalists and to journalism is a symbol of how society respects the fundamental freedoms of expression and access to information. Society suffers whenever a journalist falls victim, whether to threats, harassment or murder. It affects us all when press freedom is curbed by censorship or political interference, or is contaminated by manipulation and made-up content.
When the free flow of information is hampered, the void is more easily filled by disinformation, undermining the ability of communities to make informed choices.
With this in mind, the global theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day is Critical Minds for Critical Times: Media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies.
This refers to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an ambitious 15-year commitment of all UN Member States and stakeholders toward worldwide prosperity, peace and development. Journalism is central to achieving the agenda’s 16th goal, which aims for justice for all, peace, and inclusive institutions.
Free and independent journalism reinforces democracy, justice and the rule of law. It also serves as a prerequisite for combating gross economic inequalities, reversing climate change, and promoting women’s rights.
But without audiences demanding well-researched and conflict-sensitive narratives, critical reporting will be increasingly side-lined.
Every citizen has a direct stake in the quality of the information environment. ‘Fake’(d) news can only take root in the absence of critical thinking and the assumption that if it looks like news then in must be. Media and Information Literacy efforts have a central role in building the necessary defences in the minds of individuals to face these phenomena.
On World Press Freedom Day, let us all be reminded that fact-based journalism is the light that illuminates the pathway to a future where informed communities can work together, mindful of their responsibilities to each other and to the world we live in.
Themes for 2017:
At a time described by some as critical for journalism, World Press Freedom Day 2017 will focus on why it is vital to strengthen free and quality journalism to enable the media to effectively contribute to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 16 (link is external).
Specifically, the interrelationships between freedom of expression, justice for all and the rule of law, peace, and inclusiveness will be explored.
Justice for all as a prerequisite for freedom of expression and sustainable development
The rule of law forms an integral part of a democratic and inclusive society. It protects fundamental freedoms and applies universally to each individual and entity. Weak institutions, a weak judiciary, and lack of access to justice greatly impede sustainable development.
Without a well-functioning legal and regulatory environment, the public loses confidence in the democratic process and no longer invests in its sustainable future.
Only when media are free, independent and pluralistic can they ensure that the rule of law is applied and respected in full.
Conversely, only a legal framework that safeguards freedom of expression and freedom of information allows for such a media sector to emerge. Free media and an independent, effective judiciary play a mutually reinforcing role as pillars of democracy.
Journalists are not only major users of the cherished right to freedom of expression but also symbols of the extent to which a society tolerates and/or promotes freedom of expression.
The current state of safety of journalists worldwide is discouraging: over the course of the last decade 827 journalists and media workers have been killed. Even more alarming is the fact that in less than one out of ten cases the perpetrators have been caught.
Championed by UNESCO since 2012, the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity serves as the platform on which these complex issues are tackled.
Judicial systems worldwide need to be strengthened with a key focus on protecting freedom of expression and the safety of journalists. The call of the 2030 Development Agenda for universal justice is relevant to all elements of the three “P” approach in ensuring a safe media environment: Prevention of violence against media; Protection of journalists in danger; and Prosecution of perpetrators of crimes committed against media professionals.
Promoting the media''s potential as a catalyzer of peace and mutual understanding
The media often play a central role in conflict and crisis situations. Independent, objective, neutral media can help defuse tension, promote dialogue, and contain conflicts. Conversely, biased and untrue reporting can exacerbate violence.
When misused for propaganda purposes, the media can contribute to inciting hatred and spreading rumours. Moreover, in situations of armed conflict and disaster, the risks faced by journalists are significantly multiplied.
An additional threat to peace and security, human rights, and justice is the spread of violent extremism catalyzed by terrorist and extremist groups. These groups have used social media as a tool for the global and real-time communication of intolerant messages.
The digital era has enhanced opportunities for access to information, the creation and sharing of knowledge, facilitating exchange as well as intercultural dialogue. However, the rise of online hate speech shows that digital technologies also carry with them a number of challenges.
One of these is striking the right balance between freedom of expression online and respect for equality and human dignity. Countering hate speech and violent extremism online calls for a holistic approach that addresses the root causes of tension and division within societies.
The media can provide a platform for a multitude of voices and perspectives that can help strengthen tolerance, dialogue and critical thinking. They can also offer counter narratives to challenge the ideas promoted in violent extremism narratives.
Finally, countering extremist narratives comes hand in hand with empowering media users with the skills needed to navigate the Internet, and interpret, reject and react to hateful and inciting messages.
Freedom of expression and freedom of information foster more inclusive societies
Enabled by digital technologies, public participation in the media has allowed for a democratization of narrative and intercultural dialogue.
However, the increased supply and demand of information has laid bare the role of internet intermediaries, the compromise of the confidentiality of sources, the risks in terms of digital safety faced by journalists, the rise of online hate speech, and the digital divide.
The large discrepancy of access to information both between and within countries, as well as between men and women, demonstrates that the Information Age duly supplied the tools but not the envisioned fully connected world.
In order for freedom of expression to be universally applied and for sustainable development to thrive, information must become available to all without restrictions. Digital illiteracy is another obstacle in this regard.
By enabling the empowerment of citizens, freedom of information is a cornerstone of participatory democracy. It also plays an essential role in promoting accountable and effective institutions which support the rule of law.
Media are important actors in promoting social inclusion. Their potential to promote dialogue, reflect the diversity of opinions and perspectives in society, and challenge stereotypes and misrepresentations, is to be encouraged. Supporting pluralism and gender equality in the media is central to this process.
UNESCO’s concept of Internet Universality proposes four principles for an inclusive Internet that can contribute to the development of Knowledge Societies as foundations for sustainable development: Human Rights, Openness, Accessibility and Multi-stakeholder participation.
Only an inclusive society, facilitated by independent and pluralistic media and a safe media environment where the free flow of information is fostered, provides the necessary conditions to achieve a better future for all.
* World Press Freedom Day 2017 was livestreamed and recorded, all the sessions are now available for viewing: # Jakarta Declaration:
* World Press Freedom Day statement by David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, who was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor freedom of the media and the safety of journalists globally:


The great climate silence: we are on the edge of the abyss but we ignore it
by Clive Hamilton
Guardian News - Climate Change
After 200,000 years of modern humans on a 4.5 billion-year-old Earth, we have arrived at new point in history: the Anthropocene. The change has come upon us with disorienting speed. It is the kind of shift that typically takes two or three or four generations to sink in.
Our best scientists tell us insistently that a calamity is unfolding, that the life-support systems of the Earth are being damaged in ways that threaten our survival. Yet in the face of these facts we carry on as usual.
Most citizens ignore or downplay the warnings; many of our intellectuals indulge in wishful thinking; and some influential voices declare that nothing at all is happening, that the scientists are deceiving us.
Yet the evidence tells us that so powerful have humans become that we have entered this new and dangerous geological epoch, which is defined by the fact that the human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system.
This bizarre situation, in which we have become potent enough to change the course of the Earth yet seem unable to regulate ourselves, contradicts every modern belief about the kind of creature the human being is.
So for some it is absurd to suggest that humankind could break out of the boundaries of history and inscribe itself as a geological force in deep time. Humans are too puny to change the climate, they insist, so it is outlandish to suggest we could change the geological time scale.
Others assign the Earth and its evolution to the divine realm, so that it is not merely impertinence to suggest that humans can overrule the almighty, but blasphemy.
Many intellectuals in the social sciences and humanities do not concede that Earth scientists have anything to say that could impinge on their understanding of the world, because the “world” consists only of humans engaging with humans, with nature no more than a passive backdrop to draw on as we please.
The “humans-only” orientation of the social sciences and humanities is reinforced by our total absorption in representations of reality derived from media, encouraging us to view the ecological crisis as a spectacle that takes place outside the bubble of our existence.
It is true that grasping the scale of what is happening requires not only breaking the bubble but also making the cognitive leap to “Earth system thinking” – that is, conceiving of the Earth as a single, complex, dynamic system.
It is one thing to accept that human influence has spread across the landscape, the oceans and the atmosphere, but quite another to make the jump to understanding that human activities are disrupting the functioning of the Earth as a complex, dynamic, ever-evolving totality comprised of myriad interlocking processes.
But consider this astounding fact: with knowledge of the cycles that govern Earth’s rotation, including its tilt and wobble, paleo-climatologists are able to predict with reasonable certainty that the next ice age is due in 50,000 years’ time.
Yet because carbon dioxide persists in the atmosphere for millennia, global warming from human activity in the 20th and 21st centuries is expected to suppress that ice age and quite possibly the following one, expected in 130,000 years.
If human activity occurring over a century or two can irreversibly transform the global climate for tens of thousands of years, we are prompted to rethink history and social analysis as a purely intra-human affair.
How should we understand the disquieting fact that a mass of scientific evidence about the Anthropocene, an unfolding event of colossal proportions, has been insufficient to induce a reasoned and fitting response?
For many, the accumulation of facts about ecological disruption seems to have a narcotising effect, all too apparent in popular attitudes to the crisis of the Earth system, and especially among opinion-makers and political leaders.
A few have opened themselves to the full meaning of the Anthropocene, crossing a threshold by way of a gradual but ever-more disturbing process of evidence assimilation or, in some cases, after a realisation that breaks over them suddenly and with great force in response to an event or piece of information in itself quite small.
Beyond the science, the few alert to the plight of the Earth sense that something unfathomably great is taking place, conscious that we face a struggle between ruin and the possibility of some kind of salvation.
So today the greatest tragedy is the absence of a sense of the tragedy. The indifference of most to the Earth system’s disturbance may be attributed to a failure of reason or psychological weaknesses; but these seem inadequate to explain why we find ourselves on the edge of the abyss.
How can we understand the miserable failure of contemporary thinking to come to grips with what now confronts us? A few years after the second atomic bomb was dropped, Kazuo Ishiguro wrote a novel about the people of Nagasaki, a novel in which the bomb is never mentioned yet whose shadow falls over everyone. The Anthropocene’s shadow too falls over all of us.
Yet the bookshops are regularly replenished with tomes about world futures from our leading intellectuals of left and right in which the ecological crisis is barely mentioned. They write about the rise of China, clashing civilizations and machines that take over the world, composed and put forward as if climate scientists do not exist. They prognosticate about a future from which the dominant facts have been expunged, futurologists trapped in an obsolete past. It is the great silence.
I heard of a dinner party during which one of Europe’s most eminent psychoanalysts held forth ardently on every topic but fell mute when climate change was raised. He had nothing to say. For most of the intelligentsia, it is as if the projections of Earth scientists are so preposterous they can safely be ignored.
Perhaps the intellectual surrender is so complete because the forces we hoped would make the world a more civilised place – personal freedoms, democracy, material advance, technological power – are in truth paving the way to its destruction. The powers we most trusted have betrayed us; that which we believed would save us now threatens to devour us.
For some, the tension is resolved by rejecting the evidence, which is to say, by discarding the Enlightenment. For others, the response is to denigrate calls to heed the danger as a loss of faith in humanity, as if anguish for the Earth were a romantic illusion or superstitious regression.
Yet the Earth scientists continue to haunt us, following us around like wailing apparitions while we hurry on with our lives, turning around occasionally with irritation to hold up the crucifix of Progress.
* This is an edited extract from Clive Hamilton’s Defiant Earth: The fate of humans in the Anthropocene. Mr Hamilton is Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics and the Vice-Chancellor''s Chair in Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University.

Visit the related web page

View more stories

Submit a Story Search by keyword and country Guestbook