Critical minds for critical times: World Press Freedom Day

DISAGREED with the media lately?

Did a news item in your local newspaper, online media, radio or television raise your ire if not your blood pressure?

Count yourself lucky, because in Australia, just as we have (some) freedom of the media, you can complain and you can disagree.

In many other parts of the world, to disagree with the media can mean imprisonment or death.

Every year, May 3 celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

A free media is essential to a democratic society, it ensures we know what is happening in our world and enables us to report, review and criticise.

However, the International Federation of Journalists has released a chilling report which states in 2016 there were 93 cases of killings of journalists around the world while 13 have so far lost their lives to violence since the start of 2017.

In 2006 I was fortunate to work with the Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance, as an organiser of the Free Media in a Democratic Society conference.

The FMDS conference brought together 100 leading journalists from 21 countries including Asia, Europe and Australia, and addressed critical topics related to diminishing press freedoms and freedom of information legislation.

A key topic then - as it is now - is how governments ignore criticism from many in the media, with many working to diminish the press freedoms that many countries including Australia, have long taken for granted.

There we also discussed journalism in a time of national security, freedom of expression, media regulation, the laws affecting the media's role including defamation, contempt and its impacts and the media's role in the administration of justice.

High on the agenda were Australian laws, particularly legislation that will inhibit the public's right to know and the ability of journalists to report the news as part of its vital role in the functioning of a democracy.

Back then visiting journalists from Asia also made impassioned pleas for their Australian colleagues to keep fighting the good fight and resist these draconian measures.

According to the IFJ, the situation from Manila to Lima through Kuala Lumpur, Kiev and Ouagadougou, the survey paints a grim picture of the state of the threat to independent journalism.

It also notes criminal litigation is also a significant challenge to press freedom, with many repressive regimes resorting to the jailing of journalists based on gagging media laws such as criminal defamation and anti-terrorism legislation.

Sometimes when we report on stories which can distress some readers, we are criticised for covering incidents as being too shocking or disgusting.

Honesty, fairness, independence and respecting the rights of others are the four pillars of the journalist code of practice, so we cannot simply sweep stories under the carpet because they reflect poorly on our society.

We must cover incidents which are in the public interest.

Only by shining a light on those who prey in the helpless, the weak and the disadvantaged can we help to bring justice.

So when you read, hear or watch a media item which rises your hackles, or you witness an injustice, don't just get angry.

Get involved.

Stand up to repression.

Write a letter to the editor.

Contribute an article yourself.

And even if you don't get the result you desire, know you did your best.

Just as we in the newsroom do, even if you don't agree with us.

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