World press struggling for freedom 31 years on

World press struggling for freedom 31 years on
A picture showing Kenyans journalists covering terrorist attack in Nairobi. [Photo: Courtesy]

Former South African President Nelson Mandela was a defender of press freedom and knew very well the role of a free press in building a democratic state. Just months before the African National Congress (ANC) won South Africa’s first open elections, he thanked the international media for the support they provided in his country’s “struggle for democracy.” ” He noted that press freedom “can be the alert watchdog of the public interest against the temptation on the part of those who wield it to abuse that power.”

Yesterday marked 31 years since the first World Press Freedom Day was created by UNESCO on May 3, 1991. The day marks the fundamental principles of press freedom to evaluate press freedom around the world and to defend the media from attacks on their independence. It also pays tribute to journalists who have lost their lives doing their work as “overseers” of governments.

A recent 3-day seminar, sponsored by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), brought together journalists from East Africa to their Centre of Excellence for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (ICEPCV). 

At the conference, the EU Ambassador to Djibouti, Aidan Ohara, spoke about the dangers that journalists face in many countries, saying, “I don’t envy the role of the media in trying to navigate this issue.  Journalists are often caught in the middle, under pressure from extremists to disseminate their poisonous messages and are attacked by the same people if they try to resist.”

U.S. Ambassador Jonathan Pratt reminded the journalists saying, “We have to look no further than Ukraine to see the dangerous influence of false information and of the need for accurate and timely information that a free press provides in countering “fake news.” 

“Current regional challenges posed by violent extremism have increased the need for an evidence-based understanding of how communities can respond to such threats. Media strategies can help but the trust and credibility of information providers are crucial.”

World Press Freedom Day also acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. 

Here in South Sudan, Patrick Oyet, the President of the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS), talked about the meaning of World Press Freedom Day and the condition of the “free press” and media development in our country.

“For us as UJOSS, World Press Freedom Day is very important because it reminds all the people of South Sudan that we have to promote what is guaranteed in our constitution, Oyet said, in an extensive interview with Radio Tamazuj.

Oyet lamented that despite independence, journalists are still being subdued as they try to carry out their duties. Oyet said there is an “issue of ignorance of the law, where people do not know, for example, that the Media Authority Act 2013 has been created, and that any problems with any journalist are supposed to reported to the Media Authority.’’