Raising a glass to press freedom

A TV journalist is shot dead in Pakistan, a photographer tortured in Egypt, a radio station raided in Sierra Leone, a fixer jailed in Turkey, reporters murdered in Brazil, and bloggers hacked to death in Bangladesh.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, Facebook and Twitter were quick to erupt into criticism of the media, with many claiming journalists don't pay enough attention to international stories. But there’s another story we’re definitely not getting, and it could threaten our access to any news. According to Reporters Without Borders, last year saw a worrying deterioration in media freedom worldwide as war, terrorism, violence during demonstrations and the economic crisis saw a decline in media freedom on all five continents.

It comes as no surprise that Finland, Norway and Denmark top Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, or that North Korea, Eritrea and Turkmenistan are the worst offenders, but individual journalists at risk come from all over the world.

A disproportionately large number of the cases Amnesty works on are reporters, editors, photographers and others who work in the media. A quick and sobering look through our records shows at least 40 media workers who have been threatened, arrested, jailed or attacked so far this year. People like investigative journalist Genci Angjellari, who with his young family is facing deportation from Norway to Albania, where thugs are threatening to kill his relatives in retaliation for his investigations into corruption. Or Zunar, a cartoonist in Malaysia currently on trial for mocking political figures.

Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists says that nearly 50 journalists have been killed simply for doing their jobs this year, with a further 16 killed in circumstances where the motive for their death is not yet confirmed. The increasing dangers for journalists are something we should all be concerned about, because the harder it gets for the media to operate, the easier it is for those who commit human rights abuses – from governments to businesses to armed groups – to get away with it.

Tonight, in London, at our annual Media Awards we'll be paying tribute to all of these journalists at risk and to those who have paid the highest price for simply doing their job, and we'll be celebrating exactly the kind of journalism the people who carry out the harassment and attacks don’t want you to see.

It’s the kind of journalism that exposes human rights abuses, that tells hidden stories, the kind of journalism to reassure those who feel the media doesn’t cover news from ‘over there’.

Awards entries this year deal with themes ranging from gangs in Macedonia kidnapping migrants, the murder of first nation women and girls in Canada, and shootings of young black men in the USA, to mental health institutions in Guatemala, the fight against Boko Haram in Nigeria and refugees fleeing Syria – all stories published or broadcast in the British media.

The media is key to Amnesty’s work and this goes right back to the founding of the organisation. In 1961, British lawyer Peter Benenson, outraged at the jailing of two Portuguese students just for raising a toast to freedom, wrote an article in the Observer launching an ‘Appeal for Amnesty’. Reprinted in newspapers across the world, his call to action sparked the idea that people everywhere can come together and stand up for justice and freedom, and Amnesty International was born.

Benenson understood well the power of the media to influence decision-makers and shape the public debate. “It is the publicity function of Amnesty International that I think has made its name so widely known,” he said. “Not only to readers in the world, but to governments, and that’s what matters.”

Hear, hear. And at the Media Awards tonight, we’ll all be raising our glasses to press freedom.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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