We believe that press freedom is crucial not only for the production and distribution of verified and reliable news, but also to ensure that the public’s right of access to information is guaranteed in times when prompt access to accurate information is of vital importance for public health and safety.
In keeping with this year’s World Press Freedom Day theme of “Information as a Public Good”, we at Media Matters for Democracy recognise that online hate speech and digital disinformation have introduced new pressures on press freedom and human rights. The experience of the Covid-19 pandemic during the past one year has shown that people around the world, including in Pakistan, are vulnerable to viral disinformation that directly exposes them to harm, creates divisions within our societies, and endangers the democratic systems we want to strengthen. We believe that it is therefore important to protect the information ecosystem from diverse threats and acknowledge the special role of journalism in upholding the public interest through the provision of verified information.
The economic viability of the news media is one of the key topics of the press freedom day discussions. This is extremely relevant to the media industry in Pakistan, which has been struggling with a severe financial crisis. Media Matters for Democracy has been working on the issue of media sustainability by conducting research on the local media economy, providing freelance opportunities for journalists, and helping media professionals to build digital skills. We hope to continue our efforts to help the media industry in identifying and developing solutions for sustainable independent journalism. In this spirit, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration and believe that the declaration’s support for media pluralism is especially important today.
We also join our press and media development colleagues from around the world in calling upon Internet companies to put in place mechanisms to ensure transparency on their platforms. The social networks have allowed hate speech and disinformation to proliferate online with little accountability of their content moderation policies and actions. The Internet platforms also impact the reach of news organisations and influence the ability of users to access credible information on their systems. It is high time that the Internet companies take responsibility for their actions.
On this World Press Freedom Day, it is also important for us to think of the rights of the information receivers who are being targeted with disinformation. Media Matters for Democracy is proud to have an active Media and Information Literacy (MIL) programme through which we are helping to build the capacity of people, including youth, to evaluate information critically and recognise the value of credible journalism. We hope our MIL interventions will also benefit local journalists in improving their verification and fact-checking competencies.
Finally, we take this moment to pay our respects to the Pakistani journalists who lost their lives to Covid-19 during the past year. We also salute the local journalists who continue to report from the front lines of the pandemic during the third wave. We reiterate our resolve to provide support to Pakistani journalists to help them remain safe, improve their skills, and report freely and independently.
Image Source: UNESCO