A bitter toast at Press Freedom Day
Statement by the IFAJ Press Freedom committee
Yes, we should be enthusiastic about celebrating the International Press Freedom Day on May the third. Unfortunately, there is a risk that the toast we raise this year is a bitter one, and there are several reasons to believe that the situation is not better for agricultural journalists than for journalists in other sectors.
The best thing we can do right now is to try to encourage each other and strengthen our connections with journalists who face threats and repression.
Decreasing democracy and freedom
According to the latest report from Freedom House, “Freedom in the World 2021 Democracy under Siege”, the global situation for democracy has been declining during the last 15 years.
The report found that the share of countries designated “Not Free” has reached its highest level since Freedom House started tracing a decline in democracy in 2006. The report for this year downgraded 73 countries, representing 75 percent of the global population.
The international association, Reporters without Borders concludes in “World Press Freedom Index 2021” that freedom of the press has gone the same way. The Index was published by April the twentieth. There have not been so few countries on The World Press Freedom map with light color – indicating a situation that is at least good if not optimal – since 2013, when Reporters Without Borders started to measure the World Press Freedom Index with its current method (detailed at : https://rsf.org/en/detailed-methodology).
It is also commonly known that several regimes are keeping control of the information about the COVID-19 situation in their countries. They do what they can to prevent journalists from making independent reports on the actual situation. Some regimes have even used their efforts to censor news about the pandemic situation and civil unrest – inflamed by measures to control the pandemic – as an opportunity to suppress media in more general ways, decreasing press freedoms. You can find examples of that from the regional analyses in the World Press Freedom Index 2021. https://rsf.org/en/news/rsf-index-2021-regional-analysis
Besides, most of us as daily working journalists have been able to observe the development by ourselves as we have been following the media through the past year.
Public mistrust of journalists
The public mistrust of journalists nowadays does not make our job easier, either. Reporters without Borders refers to the 2021 Edelman Trust barometer, published in January this year. The barometer reveals a disturbing level of public mistrust of journalists, with 59 per cent of respondents in 28 countries saying that journalists deliberately try to mislead the public by reporting information they know to be false information they know to be false. https://www.edelman.com/trust/2021-trust-barometer/press-release
A mistrustful public may be more likely to disregard our reporting and less protective of the rights of its journalists.
Can we report independently about food supply?
Is the situation with public mistrust, decreasing democracy and press freedom related to agricultural journalism? We are not able to give a clear answer to that question because we do not have access to better statistics than Reporters Without Borders can give us, and those statistics are not specified by journalists’ area of focus. However, it is obvious that many regimes around the world do what they can to give the impression that their own actions and way of governing their countries are the right ones. It is hardly much different for example, when it comes to food supply, which is linked to agriculture.
This brings us to the United Nation’s World Food Programme. According to the programme, hunger has been on the rise since 2015 and is back to the levels seen in 2009–2010. The number of chronically hungry people has increased from 629 million in 2014 to 688 million people in 2019. About one billion people in low and lower-middle-income countries do not have sufficient food. https://hungermap.wfp.org/
We cannot explain all increasing hunger with climate change, droughts or other weather disasters, nor with poor harvests or diseases. Although the population of the world has been growing during the same time, there still should be enough food produced globally to prevent hunger.
As agricultural journalists, it is also our right to try to analyze from a political point of view why hunger is increasing.
Is it possible today? For some of us, but hardly for all of us.
That is one reason for us to support each other.
Networking with colleagues under pressure
In the IFAJ, we decided at the Delegate Assembly in New Zealand 2015 to accept member guilds in countries that operate without freedom of the press. It is a criterion, that the guild is supporting press freedom. The reason behind this decision is that we can better promote freedom of the press by trying to build networks and to keep as many contacts as possible open to colleagues trying to do their job under pressure from regimes that do not tolerate criticism.
The decision was made almost six years ago, and we are still learning.
During the years, we have been able to welcome new member guilds and support them in their activities and promote professional development.
We still have a way to go, but we are working on intensifying our global networks. We shall hope that the world is going to win the struggle of COVID-19, which also would make it easier to create and to keep up contacts between colleagues.
Anyhow, the situation entails that journalists in free countries protected by national and international rules have to support and encourage colleagues working under pressure in countries without democracy, without freedom to express themselves independently. Just as important, we will have to do that without putting our friends in danger. This is also a risk that has to be considered. It is our responsibility as professional working agricultural journalists. It is also a part of the soul of the IFAJ family: We are supporting and encouraging each other.
We can raise a toast for that – as always.
On behalf of the Freedom of the Press Committee
-Michael “Micke” Godtfredsen