“Information is a public good. […] and as a public good, it needs public support.” ~ Joseph E. Stiglitz
Today marks 30 years since the signing of the landmark Declaration of Windhoek on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press in Namibia. The theme for 2021 is ‘Information as a Public Good’. As the United Nations points out, the Declaration was originally signed with the aim of making the free flow of information a public good.
Thirty years on and we “now have incredible opportunities to express ourselves, stay informed and connect with others. But we are also facing a rise in misinformation and hate speech, the upending of media business models and the concentration of power in the hands of just a few private companies.The pandemic has underlined the need for reliable information. It is independent journalism that has helped us make sense of this crisis”, says Audrey Azoulay, director-general of UNESCO, on World Press Freedom Day.
“This theme ties in with UNESCO’s efforts to ensure the long-term health of independent, pluralistic journalism, and the safety of media workers everywhere, including through the UN Plan of Action for the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. As part of these efforts, we are working to create more transparency on online platforms in areas such as content moderation, while respecting human rights and international freedom of expression rules. We are equipping citizens with the media and information literacy skills they need to navigate this new information landscape,so they can avoid being duped or manipulated online,” Azoulay added in a statement.
“Sixty-two journalists were killed for their work in 2020, and many more lost their lives to COVID-19. We owe them a debt of gratitude. The pandemic has also exacerbated existing challenges, with numerous media now facing financial losses. The power of Internet platforms has been further entrenched, with lockdowns forcing much of daily life online. And false information and rumours have flourished, in some cases with fatal consequences,” Azoulay said.
Meanwhile, the South African National Editor’s Forum (Sanef) said it adopted the Windhoek Declaration – which was consistent with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – upon its formation in 1996.
The founding journalists and publishers of the Windhoek Declaration, it said in a statement, maintained that the African States should be encouraged to provide constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press and freedom of association.
“In 2021 journalists are facing increased attacks, including imprisonment, torture, and murder. In South Africa journalists are attacked by criminals, are harassed by cyberbullies online, receive death threats and- women journalists especially – are often targeted by party political supporters,” Sanef representatives said.
Sanef has, over the past 25 years, championed media freedom and “fought to ensure that journalists are safe and protected while speaking truth to power. Added to the stranglehold of daily attacks and intimidation, our journalists (along with all frontline workers) brave the threat of Covid-19 infections and risk to their health in their efforts to bring us the truth”.
It said, “journalists have played a significant role for the public good especially under the Covid-19 pandemic. We will continue to campaign for media that is ethical and truthful at our upcoming Ethics conference later this month”.
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