World Press Freedom Day: Gala or Requiem?

Wylie FOI No News.jpg

World Press Freedom Day: Gala or Requiem?

The last three days of this week, American time, is the United Nations’ UNESCO-sponsored World Press Freedom conference in Addid Ababa, Ethiopia.

World Press Freedom Day is officially Friday by time there, but today here. More than 100 events are scheduled to promote the relationship between the press and democracy. The theme is “Media for Democracy, Journalism and Elections In times of Disinformation.”

Most conference topics and even the awards ceremonies are not celebrations, they are a reminder that journalists’ spouses need to join those of soldiers in worrying if their beloved will come home from work safely:

Reuters reporters Kyaw Soe Go and Wa Lone were unable to personally receive the event’s top award, the UNESCO/Guillermo Caro World Press Freedom Prize and accompanying $25,000 award because they are serving seven-year prison terms in Myanmar for violating the colonial era State Secrets Act. Their final appeal was rejected last month despite police testimony they had been entrapped. They were probing the murder of 10 Rohingya Muslim adults and boys in Rakhine.

Other Reuters’ staff completed their work after their arrest, and the resulting report earned the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting.

Each year, on average, UNESCO says a journalist is killed for bringing information to the public—73 a year. These are just the ones we know about—some killings appear to be traffic crashes or other mishaps.

This isn’t just a problem for foreign or underdeveloped nations—in the past 15 months estimates range into the dozens for Western journalist murders, but many have been hard to classify as work related, non-work related, deliberate killings, or accidents.

Threats against journalists have always been an issue, but the wild, wild internet makes the Wild, Wild West look tame. Key questions included at this year’s conference included how journalism can rise above emotional content and fake news during an election; can anything be done to counter speeches demeaning journalists, and to what extent should electoral regulations be applied to the internet.

At the same time abuse of the internet is a major issue, so is lack of access. “UNESCO [believes] pluralistic and diverse media provides information options so that the public can make good choices. This is why today we also help to build community media in particular, and why we foster gender equality I the media.”

A key focus of the conference is a worldwide drive for universal internet access which can be used, among other things, to give all citizens “the right to online access to public records and government administration records, including all the information citizens need in a modern democratic society.”

If you guessed that Gov. Stitt has a way to go in getting Oklahoma up to par with the so-called less developed world, you’re right. His thoughts so far on this are on target; we’ll be interested to see his action—soon.

According to BroadbandNow, Oklahoma ranks as the nation’s 47th most connected state. Among the most pathetic figures are cities with almost no broadband coverage: Anadarko, only 1.4%; Antlers, 0.2%; Blackwell, 0.2%; Cleveland, 0%; Hugo, 0%; Idabel, 0%; Luther, 0%; Mannford, 0%; Newkirk, 0%; Noble, 0%; Talihina, 0%; Wellston, 0%, and Woodward, 0.1%.

That doesn’t mean those communities have no internet service. It just means opening an e-mail can take minutes, not microseconds, and it you want to watch a movie you’d better be good at following 10 seconds of plot followed by multiple minutes of buffering. Downloading a simple academic paper? As they’d say in New York, “Fuhgeddaboutid.”

So, Happy World Press Freedom Day. If you’re looking for a worthy cause pitch in on any of these issues. Our world’s future is at stake.