One Big Thing: Does True Press Freedom Still Exist in 2020?
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What is it?
- Sunday, May 3 was World Press Freedom Day, celebrating the important principles of press freedom. It’s a day to reflect on journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty and those jailed for speaking truth to power. It’s a moment to honor the important work of journalists around the globe who uphold democracy.
- Technology and the rise of social media has fundamentally changed the way that we get our news. As tech giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter grow, their influence and control over our regular information streams correspondingly grows.
- Despite much of the negative chatter about big tech in the U.S., in many situations the same companies play a vital role in disseminating information and upholding democracy. For example in Russia, YouTube is one of the most popular non-state outlets for news consumption and it has been used for investigative journalism to highlight high-level corruption.
Why is it important?
- The framers of the Constitution knew the importance of a free press to a democratic society and enshrined it within the First Amendment, along with the most important rights of Americans.
- Press freedom is essential to democracy because it serves as a mechanism of accountability and a source of reliable news. When trustworthy information is available, citizens are able to civically engage more frequently and effectively.
- As COVID-19 sweeps the globe, many news outlets and journalists are under attack from authoritarian leaders. While many public health measures are necessary, others are done for the benefit of those in power and use the global outbreak as an excuse to harass and arrest journalists.
- In the U.S., local news is on the decline and the impact of COVID-19 has led to many journalists being laid off or forced local news outlets to shut down completely. This is bad news because local journalists can have a unique relationship and trust with their constituents that national or global networks do not.
What can you do?
- Check out Reporters Without Border’s Tracker 19 which documents COVID-19’s impact on press freedom around the world and their World Press Freedom Index 2020
- Learn more about efforts to support press freedom from PEN America through its Newsroom Transparency Tracker; Humanity United’s support for investigative journalism; and the Knight Foundation’s efforts to support local U.S. media.
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