A Free Flow of Ideas – World Press Freedom Day

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This article celebrates World Press Freedom Day, 3 May, 2015.

 

80b8aa9becWorld Press Freedom Day is a celebration and evaluation of international press freedom, a defense of media from attacks on their independence and a tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the profession. It is an encouragement, a reminder and an occasion to inform citizens about the importance of being committed to press freedom, even while publications are censored, suspended and closed and journalists are harassed, detained and murdered.[1] Press freedom is at its lowest level in a decade and the last three years have been the most dangerous for journalists in at least two decades.[2]

In an effort to remedy this detrimental trend, three interrelated issues are being addressed by this year’s World Press Freedom Day: better reporting, gender equality and media safety in the digital age. Free and independent journalism and quality, investigative reporting are continuously challenged by government influence, media concentration, self-regulation in online news, limited media literacy and more. Women remain underrepresented and stereotypically portrayed in media coverage.[3] It is also increasingly difficult for journalists to protect their sources from digital disclosure.[4]

Several organizations have emerged with innovative tactics to counteract some of these challenges to quality, independent journalism.

 

Eye in the Sky

 

african-sky-cam-logo-300x95In Nairobi, Kenya, a group of journalists are inexpensively capturing aerial footage and providing African audiences with new, independent perspectives. Using drones and camera-equipped balloons, African skyCAM is able to get shots of dangerous or remote areas that would otherwise require them to purchase a helicopter or hitch lifts with the police or military.

For founder Dickens Onditi Olewe, “With an eye in the sky, African journalists can tell stories that might have been impossible without access to aerial footage.”[5] For example, disasters such as flooding are traditionally covered by journalists who row into flooded areas, at risk to themselves and their equipment. Without high budgets, a quadcopter drone is a relatively inexpensive option – it can be fitted with a GoPro HD camcorder and flying out in the field for around 1000 €. The project is currently funded by the African News Innovation Challenge, which helps to improve the quality of news across the continent.[6] They also have a partnership with CCTV Africa, and look to expand to Mozambique and Namibia.

One challenge, however, is the lack of regulation over civilian drone use in Kenya, and with that comes the risk of a blanket ban after any incident – already, the government has shut down two drone projects. However, limited regulation allows for African skyCAM to exist at the present moment, unlike in many other countries, and gives them the opportunity to garner trust and establish the potential for journalistic drones. [7]

 

Find the Truth

 

yaaburnee_logoA further challenge to journalism is the spread of false, misleading information. Africa Check and StopFake are two organizations sorting fact from fiction and holding public figures to account. “We do the same things as anyone else would do – find the truth, check the facts, talk to people,” says Yevhen Fedchenko, co-founder of StopFake. “These are universal ways to improve journalism in any country.”[8] Unfortunately, many national media organizations do not hold themselves to high standards of honesty and accountability.

StopFake curates and refutes distorted, false claims and propaganda by Ukrainian and Russian media about the Ukrainian conflict. The project began after students and alumni from the Mohyla School of Journalism in Kiev, Ukraine began seeing increased levels of questionable journalism, propaganda and false stories. Most of Russian mainstream media is run by the state or by companies with close links to the Kremlin, so it is difficult to find independent coverage.[9] The country is 148th of 180 for press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders, and Freedom House allotted them a score of 81, with 100 being the worst.[10]

Africa-Check-logoAfrica Check works in partnership with the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and the AFP Foundation to counter misinformation on a variety of African topics, such as claims that 28% of schoolgirls in South Africa are HIV positive, instead of 12.7%, or unrelated images being linked to the recent xenophobic attacks. The site examines the public claims of civil society leaders, government, NGOs and journalists, promoting accuracy in public debate and the media. Currently operating in South Africa, they hope to expand and open new operations in East and West Africa.[11]

In the digital age, misinformation can be spread quickly and convincingly to a wide audience. “One of the things we are concerned about is giving journalists tools to verify this information,” says Africa Check founder, Peter Cunliffe-Jones. [12] Both sites monitors both traditional news sources and social media, and provide a set of tools to assist journalists and citizens in uncovering falsified news, images, and videos.

Innovative dedication to independent, honest and transparent journalism has the potential to counteract the current decline in press freedom. To learn more, follow #WorldPressDay.

 

Notes:

[1] http://www.unesco.org/new/en/world-press-freedom-day

[2] https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/freedom-press-2014#.VT44VyHBzGc

[3] http://www.unesco.org/new/en/world-press-freedom-day

[4] https://cpj.org/reports/2014/12/international-journalists-killed-at-high-rate-in-2014-middle-east-deadliest-region-for-press.php

[5] http://onmedia.dw-akademie.de/english/?p=20125

[6] http://onmedia.dw-akademie.de/english/?p=19497

[7] http://allafrica.com/stories/201408201710.html

[8] http://onmedia.dw-akademie.de/english/?p=20125

[9] http://www.stopfake.org/en/

[10] https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2014/russia#.VT43LSHBzGe; http://rsf.org/index2014/en-index2014.php

[11] http://africacheck.org/

[12] http://onmedia.dw-akademie.de/english/?p=20125

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Rachel Pott

Rachel Pott

Rachel Pott is a writer, teacher and human rights advocate from Peterborough, Canada.

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