Today it is the 2nd of November. Did you know the 2nd of November is the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists? No? Don’t worry, I didn’t either. I accidentally came across it on twitter and started to think about the importance of journalism. Where or most importantly, who would we be without it?
Admittedly, I don’t know much about the history of journalism, but I guess the mere idea of journalism has been a target, not rarely violent, throughout its existence. 1149 journalists have been killed since 1992. The Worst of the Worst countries for freedom of press and the overall safety of journalists are the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Personally, I believe that the only countries where you can truly be free are those where freedom of press is a given. Claiming freedom in any form, in countries where journalists are not free to state their minds about the rich and powerful, equals false freedom if you ask me. Journalists are those who bring clarity, trigger discussions, give voice to the voiceless. They empower, change points of view and inform. If that can not be done freely.. Then those in power have some nasty secrets to hide.
Luckily we have something called citizen journalism. With internet and social media becoming more and more accessible in most parts of the world, citizen journalist arise. Through twitter, blogs, youtube etcetera, people from all over the world share their stories. In some area’s they have even become the primary source of information. For example, most stories on the internet on the current situation in Syria are provided by citizen journalists. Often unrecognized and in grave danger of prosecution and loss of life, they choose to report what is happening around them. Illustrating the desire of being heard and the freedom to think and express.
A recent example of sacrifices people are willing to make in order to be free is the book of Yeonmi Parks that was recently published. In Order to Live describes the life of a young Yeonmi Parks while living in North Korea where she was made to believe that Kim Jong-Il, the country’s dictator, could read her mind. Followed by her journey to freedom.
Not to mention one of the most well known mistreated journalists at this time, Raif Badawi. I am guessing that most of you if active on social media have heard about him thanks to the media campaign of Amnesty International. Badawi was arrested in 2012 after, allegedly, insulting Islam on his website Free Saudi Liberals. In 2013, he was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes. In 2014, he was re-sentenced to 1,000 lashes and ten years in prison. The first 50 lashes were carried out in January 2015 after which the remaining lashes have been postponed due to Raif’s poor health. Imagine the contradiction of being imprisoned and tortured for speaking your mind in one country while winning the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in another.
Isn’t it a strange thing. An award for free thinking? I always assumed that freedom of speech or expression could be restricted. But thought would always be our own. But I guess when you grow up and live in a totalitarian regime with all its propaganda and suppression you don’t really learn to form your own opinions. My own views have been influenced by many great speakers, artists, politicians etcetera. If I hadn’t heard all these people and I were only fed by the states propaganda. Then what would my opinion be? Would my thoughts even be mine?
It’s funny because most people tend to think that freedom of press and expression are given facts in the western world and exceptions or signs of progress in other regions. It is true that most of the highest scoring countries in the World Press Freedom Index are western countries, but being western does not equal freedom of press. Just to give you an idea. The top five countries representing the countries with the highest freedom of press are Finland, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands and Sweden. No surprises there. But let’s look at the ones that will probably surprise you. Did you know that Jamaica (9th), Slovakia (14th), Costa Rica (16th) and Namibia (17th) are among the 21 countries who may call themselves the freest countries in the world considering freedom of press? And did you also know that the United States (49th), United Kingdom (34th), Australia (25th) and France (38th) are not among those free countries.
Of course, the fact remains that the most restricted countries are those with authoritarian or hybrid regimes. But it’s good to be aware of the fact that a western or democratic country does not automatically mean full freedom of press and expression.
Freedom of expression must be protected because it contributes to the public’s recognition of truth or the growth of public knowledge, or because it is necessary to the operation of a democratic form of government, or because it is important to individual self-realization, or because it is an important aspect of individual autonomy. Moon, R. (2009). The Social Character of Freedom of Expression. Amsterdam Law Forum
Just imagine for a second who you would be and how you would think if you had not heard or read the important words of people you admire or those who made you question your reality. Can you guarantee that you would be the same person, with the same values and standards?
All in all, I think journalists, pro’s or citizens, deserve some respect for helping us in forming our opinions. In return, we can make sure not to make the mistake of arguing with those we do not agree with. Instead, save your energy and argue about how solutions can be formed and bridges can be built while respecting both opinions. They are after all the voicings of freedom of expression. And I think.. Most of us are of the opinion that that is a good thing.