Every year on May 3, UNESCO commemorates World Press Freedom Day.
To mark 30 years since the United Nations General Assembly designated the day, a special event will be held at the UN headquarters in New York.
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This year’s theme will spotlight freedom of expression as a vehicle for enjoying and protecting other human rights.
Where is press freedom most restricted?
To measure the pulse of press freedom around the globe, the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) publishes an annual index. It ranks the political, economic, and sociocultural context as well as the legal framework and security of the press in 180 countries and territories.
According to the 2023 World Press Freedom Index, North Korea has the worst press freedom, followed by China, Vietnam, Iran and Turkmenistan.
North Korea has consistently ranked among the most censored countries. According to RSF, The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the government’s official mouthpiece, is the only permitted news source for North Korea’s media.
China slipped four places over the course of 2022 to become the second most restrictive country in the world. According to RSF, China is the world’s largest prison for journalists, and its government conducts a campaign of repression against journalism and the right to information worldwide.
Countries with the highest levels of media freedom
Norway tops the list with the highest global score for press freedom, followed by Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland.
However, press freedom in Europe has been overshadowed by censorship in its east and the war in Ukraine.
Russia ranks 164th on the list, dropping nine places compared with 2022. Following the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian State Duma adopted laws under which “false information” about Russia’s armed forces and other state bodies would be punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Systemic censorship in Russia, such as the ban on Western media, paved the way for the Kremlin’s pro-war propaganda using social messaging apps such as Telegram, according to RSF.
How many journalists have been killed this year?
So far in 2023, seven journalists and media workers have been killed, according to RSF.
Two journalists and media workers were killed in Afghanistan in March. Akmal Tabian and Sayed Hussain Naderi worked for the Afghan Voice Agency.
One journalist was killed in Albania, one in Cameroon, one in India, one in Ukraine and one in the United States.
In 2022, 55 journalists and four media workers were killed while doing their jobs. Since 2000, 1,795 journalists have been killed, according to RSF.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the 50 percent increase in the killing of media members in 2022 “unbelievable”, stressing freedom of the press “is the foundation of democracy and justice”.
Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing
On May 11, 2022, veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank. She was covering an Israeli army raid on the Jenin refugee camp when she was shot in the head.
Abu Akleh was wearing a press vest and standing with other journalists when she was shot.
In December, Al Jazeera Media Network submitted a formal request to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate and prosecute those responsible for her death.
How many journalists are imprisoned?
Some 568 journalists and media workers are currently imprisoned, according to RSF. Of them, 83 were arrested this year.
President Xi Jinping’s tighter controls on the press have led to China leading the world in the number of imprisoned journalists with increased internet censorship and surveillance, according to RSF. About 106 journalists and media workers are currently jailed in China.
In Myanmar, 80 journalists and media workers are imprisoned. This is followed by Belarus, where 46 journalists are in jail.
In Russia, 29 journalists and media workers are currently being held, including Wall Street Journal reporter and US citizen Evan Gershkovich. He was detained on March 30 by the Russian Federal Security Service in Yekaterinburg. A court in Moscow placed him under arrest on charges of spying for the US government.
The journalists who disappeared
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 65 journalists are missing in 2023.
In Mexico, 16 journalists vanished, followed by Iraq where nine are missing, eight in Syria, and seven in Russia.
Alan Garcia Aguilar was the latest to disappear in December. An operation involving the military and National Guard led to the release of two of his colleagues in Mexico. All three, who were working for Escenerio Calentano, an organisation that often reports on stories about drug cartels, went missing in Mexico’s Guerrero state.