Updated: May 12
On the 3rd of May we celebrate the core values of freedom of the press. It is a day to assess press freedom around the globe, to protect the media against threats to their independence, and to remember the journalists who have died while carrying out their line of work.
The right to freedom of expression, established in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is a prerequisite and a driving force for the enjoyment of all other human rights. Article 19 states that:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."
Press freedom and access to information both contribute to the overarching goal of allowing people to take part in development. People can take control of their own life by being empowered through a variety of social and political processes. This can only be achieved by having access to information that is accurate, unbiased, and represents a variety of opinions, as well as the means to actively communicate both vertically and horizontally, and participating in the lively communal life. An autonomous media sector derives its power from the community it serves and, in turn, gives that community the ability to participate fully in democracy. Some of the largest information challenges that affect our daily lives are misinformation, hate speech, excessive content moderation, and a lack of transparency. And an independent press is the only way to address them.
Therefore, to make freedom of expression a reality, we need legal and regulatory frameworks, political support, the rule of law, access to information, and media literacy abilities. The media must also follow the highest ethical and professional standards to provide accurate and reliable information.
The protection of media freedom around the world is critical for an effective government in both emerging and established democracies. Free and pluralistic media support public and political discourse, guarantee transparency, and the rule of law, while helping in the battle against poverty. A free press is crucial to maintaining a healthy democracy, as it holds government officials accountable, educates citizens, and defends the truth.
Unfortunately, the protection of journalists is still not universal, and many have lost their lives while doing their jobs. One such example is Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak, who was murdered in 2018. Kuciak was investigating alleged ties between the Slovak government and organized crime when he was shot and killed in his home, along with his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova.
Kuciak's murder sparked numerous protests in Slovakia and brought attention to the dangers that journalists face around the world. The reason why Kuciak's murder had such a heavy impact on Slovak society was that it was the first time in a long time that a journalist had been killed in a country in Central Europe. It was a wake-up call for many, highlighting the potential dangers that journalists face when they investigate corruption and organized crime. Kuciak's murder was not only a tragedy for his family and loved ones, but it was also a reflection of deeper issues within Slovak society, including a threatened judicial system and widespread corruption. It is important that we continue to fight and protect press freedom and support journalists who risk their lives to uncover the truth.
In addition to the tragic murder of Ján Kuciak, there have been numerous cases of foreign and local journalists being imprisoned in Russia. In March 2023, Evan Gershkovich, a US citizen and a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, was arrested by Russian authorities on charges of espionage. He is the first foreign journalist to be charged with such a crime in Russia since the Cold War. Gershkovich's detention is part of a broader crackdown on foreign media outlets by the Kremlin, following its invasion of Ukraine the previous year. The arrest has raised concerns about press freedom in Russia, and many have called for Gershkovich's release. Another example of the dangers that journalists face worldwide is the arrest of Roman Ivanov. Ivanov, who is a reporter for RusNews, was covering a protest in Korolyov, Moscow, when he was arrested and accused of participating in the protest and failing to obey the police. These cases are just a few examples of how journalists around the world face threats and intimidation for doing their jobs.
It is essential to keep shining a light on these issues. We cannot allow those in power to silence or intimidate journalists and prevent them from reporting on important issues. As consumers of news, we must also do our part by seeking out different sources of information and supporting independent media outlets. Together, we can help protect the freedom of the press and ensure that journalists can carry out their work without having a fear of being killed.
Upholding freedom of the press is essential to protecting individual rights, ensuring free and fair elections, cooperation, and a healthy democracy. Supporting this value worldwide is crucial for the safety and well-being of all people, including journalists like Ján Kuciak, who risk their lives to report on important issues. At the end of the day, a free press is about the people—the ones who report the news, rely on it, and whose stories deserve to be told. When journalists are threatened, attacked, or silenced for doing their jobs, it is a tragedy not just for them and their families but for everyone who believes in the power of information to create a better world. We cannot forget the bravery of reporters like Ján Kuciak and the sacrifices they made to bring us the truth. We owe it to them to protect their legacy by standing up for press freedom. It is time to defend the truth and keep the spirit of journalism alive.
United Nations. (n.d.). Background | United Nations. https://www.un.org/en/observances/press-freedom-day/background#:~:text=Everyone%20has%20the%20right%20to,media%20and%20regardless%20of%20frontiers.%22
Soken-Huberty, E. (2021). Why Is Freedom Of The Press Important in a Democracy? Human Rights Careers. https://www.humanrightscareers.com/issues/why-is-freedom-of-the-press-important-in-a-democracy/
Euronews. (2020, September 3). Jan Kuciak murder: The crime and trial that sparked a “renaissance of civil society.” Euronews. https://www.euronews.com/2020/09/03/jan-kuciak-murder-the-crime-and-trial-that-sparked-a-renaissance-of-civil-society-
Halasz, S. (2023, April 18). Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich denied detention appeal in Moscow. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/04/18/europe/evan-gershkovich-appeals-detention-russia-intl/index.html#:~:text=Reporter%20Evan%20Gershkovich%2C%20who%20was,detention%20in%20Moscow%20on%20Tuesday.
Gonzales, S. (2022). Russian journalists arrested, detained, charged, summonsed during anti-mobilization protests. Committee to Protect Journalists. https://cpj.org/2022/09/russian-journalists-arrested-detained-charged-summonsed-during-anti-mobilization-protests/
Written by Ioanna Polydorou
Edited by Kateřina Hlaváčková
Ioanna Polydorou is a second year Human Rights and Multilevel Governance Masters student at the University of Padova. Obtained an undergraduate degree in LLB Law from the University of Reading, UK. Her goal is to work in the human rights field supporting women’s rights. Follow Ioanna on LinkedIn: Ioanna Polydorou and Instagram @joahnpo