Marking World Press Freedom Day in a troubling global environment

Thursday, May 3, marks World Press Freedom Day, a date chosen by the United Nations in 1993 to celebrate the global community’s commitment to the value of a free and independent press. Today, there doesn’t seem to be much to celebrate.

As Joel Simon, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, notes for CJR, more than 260 journalists were in jail at the beginning of the year, the highest number CPJ has recorded. Recent attacks against journalists in Afghanistan served to highlight the sometimes deadly consequences of practicing journalism, and crackdowns in places like Turkey and Egypt continue unabated.

Simon links the recent history of problems for the press to the outbreak of the War on Terror and the backlash to the Arab Spring, adding that “at the moment when information is being weaponized, the historic defenders of press freedom, the US and Europe, are failing to step up.” As we’ve argued before, President Trump’s attacks against “fake news” and the “dishonest” media have a global impact, providing leeway for autocrats and even democratically elected leaders to crack down on the press. A recent report by Reporters Without Borders blamed the “climate of hatred” towards journalism for the deteriorating situation around the world.

RELATED: America’s role in a ‘climate of hatred’ for journalists

So what’s the value of a day on which governments will issue supportive proclamations and organizations will hold events meant to celebrate the global commitment to press freedoms? In a practical sense, not much. But May 3 does mark an opportunity to take stock of the serious issues facing the profession and to nudge the conversation in a more productive direction. As Simon writes, “I will take every World Press Freedom Day proclamation that I can get. Every public protest, every UN-hosted panel discussion, bolsters, however slightly, the global norms that for several decades supported the expansion of press freedom around the world.”

Below, more on the state of press freedoms on a day meant for celebration.

  • Updates from Myanmar: Reuters has some rare good news about the case against two of its journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who have been in prison since December.
  • The scene in Afghanistan: Al Jazeera’s Jennifer Glasse checks in with Afghanistan’s defiant media following attacks earlier this week that killed 10 journalists.
  • Waiting on change in Zimbabwe: According to News24, two print journalists were arrested Wednesday. “There had been hopes Zimbabwe’s media would be a lot freer under the new government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa,” News24 reports. “However, strict press laws brought in by his predecessor Robert Mugabe remain in force, and critics say state-run media remains biased in favour of the ruling party.”
  • Facing deportation in the US: The New Yorker’s Steve Coll writes about the case of Mexican journalist Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, who fled to the US in 2007, seeking asylum. He and his son were detained in December, and are currently facing deportation at an ICE facility in El Paso, Texas.
  • Promoting journalism: CNN’s Brian Stelter reports on a campaign launched by dozens of news outlets, from The New York Times to The Economist to National Review, encouraging readers to consume a wide variety of sources.
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Other notable stories

  • Sean Hannity got a scoop last night. Rudy Giuliani, who recently joined President Trump’s legal team, told Hannity that President Trump reimbursed his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, $130,000 that Cohen paid to Stormy Daniels in the days before the 2016 election. Giuliani later walked back the comments, telling Fox the money was for unspecified “expenses,” and that the president was unaware that money would be going to Daniels. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has previously denied that Trump had any knowledge of the payment. Trump is tweeting about it this morning. Today’s press briefing should be interesting…
  • The Chicago Sun-Times has launched a campaign to save the paper, encouraging readers to subscribe. It includes heartfelt personal stories, like this one from the paper’s Evan F. Moore, arguing for the value of the outlet. The Sun-Times was purchased last year by a group including private investors, a former city alderman, and the Chicago Federation of Labor.
  • A shake-up on President Trump’s legal team will see former Clinton impeachment lawyer Emmet T. Flood replace the extravagantly mustachioed Ty Cobb. The move was notable in part because Trump slammed a March New York Times story reporting that such changes were being discussed.
  • For CJR, former Reagan spokesman and speechwriter Mark D. Weinberg writes about President Trump’s historic break with the press corps. Weinberg criticizes Trump not just for breaking with tradition by skipping the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, but also for going more that a year without holding a solo press conference.
  • Bloomberg has launched a subscription model, instituting a metered paywall that kicks in after 10 free articles per month, reports The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Mullin. The two-tiered system starts at $35/month, and marks a change in strategy for a publisher that used to allow readers to consume its content for free.
  • CJR’s Jackie Spinner looks at The Triibe, a digital media site focused on Chicago’s overlooked stories. “A year in, The Triibe reads like a digital diary of what it means to be young and black in Chicago, to be cool, tapped-in, and connected,” Spinner writes. “Rather than attempt to cover hyperlocal news for all of Chicago, The Triibe focuses on culture and everyday life for black millennials.”

Correction: An earlier version of this newsletter stated that News24 was Zimbabwe-owned. It is based in South Africa. 

ICYMI: We did the math on the White House Correspondents’ Dinner

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.