World Press Freedom Day

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Every morning, as I fight off my lingering urge to return to bed, I surround myself by the news. On my phone, on the radio, on TV. Maybe it’s because I live in a city where politics is our bread and butter – or maybe water and oxygen make a better analogy. Maybe I just like feeling “plugged in.” Then again, maybe I’m being too hard on myself – millions all over the world probably did the same thing during their mornings, or something similar.

I’ve got a great deal of respect for journalists – I probably wouldn’t be able to do my job without them. Furthermore, a very good friend, and former roommate, of mine is an aspiring journalist. I learned a great deal from him about journalistic integrity, ethics, and standards.

A free and independent media is of the utmost importance in maintaining a free and democratic society. So much more than entertainment, the media can offer a free and unbiased opinion, investigation of an issue, or criticism of a policy. And real people, journalists like that friend of mine, are responsible.

I’ve also learned about the dangers facing journalists, I’ve even blogged about the subject. Things may look pretty bad for journalists in Iraq, but they press on. In the US, journalists covering the Occupy Movement have been harassed and suppressed. In other countries they have been threatened with violence, had their cameras smashed, and have been arrested and held without trial.

Freedom House recently released the latest edition of an annual index published by since 1980, coinciding with World Press Freedom Day. The report surveys freedom of the press across the globe. For the first year after eight years of decline, media freedom worldwide has actually improved. Improvements in the Arab world were the most significant findings of Freedom of the Press 2012: A Global Survey of Media Independence. 

Three of the countries with major gains—Burma, Libya, and Tunisia—had for many years endured media environments that were among the world’s most oppressive. Both Libya and Tunisia made single-year leaps of a size practically unheard of in the 32-year history of the report. Furthermore, they were accompanied by positive changes in several key countries outside the Middle East and North Africa: Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Zambia. Other countries that registered progress include Georgia, Nepal, Niger, Sierra Leone, and Togo.

In Iraq, however, media freedoms continue to erode. In an article by Prashant Rao, Rao recounts the violence against journalists in Iraq as documented by the Journalistic Freedom Observatory, an Iraq-based NGO. They report that the government is introducing bills to legally curtail the freedoms of media. As Rao succinctly put it “Iraq regularly ranks near the bottom of global press freedom rankings. It placed 152nd out of 179 countries in media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders’ 2011-2012 World Press Freedom Index, down 22 from the year before.” 

As the fight continues in Iraq to determine its the future of its media. EPIC will continue to work with its partners to educate young Iraqis about the power of their own voice and their expand the opportunities available to them.