World Association of News Publishers

Highlights from the Annual Press Freedom Roundtable

Highlights from the Annual Press Freedom Roundtable

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After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the liberation of South Africa from apartheid, the world saw great strides in press freedom. Access to information was democratised, countries repealed criminal libel laws and a breadth of new independent publications now offer readers more choices than ever before. Yet over the past decade some of those gains have eroded.

“The problem is that for the last 10 out of 20 years some of the countries have regressed,” says Agnès Callamard, executive director of Article 19, during the Press Freedom Round Table. “If they don't stop this slide now, we could certainly see a real regression.” Callamard attributes much of the losses in press freedom to the war on terror.

In this context, Shahira Amin, former deputy head of Nile TV in Egypt, who recently stepped down in protest at the station's coverage of the revolution, asks: “When will the last press freedom meeting take place?”

Amadou Mahtar Ba, CEO, African Media Initiative in Kenya, believes this is a discussion with no end in sight. “When you take the role of the media as a watchdog and really put the spotlight at the helm of government or special interest, by definition they will always try to curb their rights. We will always talk about this.”

Nicolás Pérez Lapentti, publisher and deputy director of new media at El Universo in Ecuador is also pessimistic. This summer, President Rafael Correa slammed the paper, the largest in the country, with a libel suit amounting to US$80 million in damages along with three-year prison sentences for the paper's directors and former opinion editor.

The lawsuit followed an opinion column that referred to Correa as a “dictator” and accused him of ordering troops to open fire on a hospital where he was briefly held hostage by protesting police in 2010.

“That lawsuit has had a chilling effect on all of the independent media left in the country,” says Lapentti, “It's not outside the context of Ecuador.”

He adds that small countries like his, and across Latin America where press freedom has slid in recent years, need international help. “We can not do it alone,” he says.

When looking to the future scope of press freedom, the panelists also raise the question of how social media will effect freedom of expression in the years to come.

Guy Berger, recently appointed director of UNESCO's Freedom of Expression and Media Development department, warns that social media can discredit freedom of expression by providing a platform for the dissemination of hate speech, for example. Ultimately, however, social media will have to be protected by the traditional media. He referred to a recent erroneous tweet stating that former South African president Nelson Mandela had died.

Berger asks: “This is a tweet, but who is the tweeter?” This is where the media steps in, to distinguish what is true from what is not.


Alexandra Waldhorn


2011-10-15 13:37

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In countless countries, journalists, editors and publishers are physically attacked, imprisoned, censored, suspended or harassed for their work. WAN-IFRA is committed to defending freedom of expression by promoting a free and independent press around the world. Read more ...