World Press Freedom Day

A Statement from IFAJ President, Owen Roberts
May 3, 2020

Every day I receive a print version of Canada’s most read newspaper, The Toronto Star. I grew up with print, I worked in it all my life and I still enjoy the tactile nature of a newspaper, or a magazine.

Yesterday’s edition, the Sunday Star, arrived on time as always and was chock full of news about the COVID-19 pandemic, from all over the world.

The print version is shrinking – today, it was just 28 pages, with only three ads. – but the digital edition is flourishing. Online readership has soared in the past couple of months. People have more time than ever to read. And it turns out they’re going to trusted sources like long-established media for their information.

Agricultural media has always been a reliable source of information for farmers. Although agriculture is a huge industry, the media community that serves it is too small for unreliable sources to flourish for long.

And I expect one of the agricultural media’s role, that of knowledge provider and mobilizer, will become increasingly important as food insecurity intensifies.

Some of us will be called on to help producers hit new levels of efficiency, productivity and sustainability. Still others will be asked to help a worried, confused and increasingly concerned public understand food production domestically and globally.

As formats change, we’ll need to change with them. But whatever shape they take, there’s no question that we are needed, and that our particular ability to mobilize agricultural knowledge is more vital than ever.

May 3rd was World Press Freedom Day. This year’s theme, as declared by UNESCO, is Journalism Without Fear or Favour. In recognition of this, over the next three days, events will be held that to me sound appealing – for example, what’s described as a high-level dialogue on press freedom and tackling disinformation in the COVID-19 context. Details are available on the UNESCO site.

Unfortunately, some of our colleagues live in that very culture of fear and favour. We know of some reporters who have been persecuted for publishing truths about the pandemic – truths as basic as its very presence. Their governments thought the COVID-19 virus’s arrival made them look inept. But they forgot journalists’ role in keeping people informed also keeps people safe. That’s one of the benefits of press freedom.

The world will change hugely in the next 365 days as we grapple with the pandemic, wait for a vaccine to be developed and start the slow road to recovery.

But two things won’t change: these are farmers’ need to feed the world, and journalists’ role in helping them do so. Through our global network for agricultural journalism, we can make a difference in how effective this all works out.