Eva-Maria Liimets: Importance of the free press should be highlighted daily
The struggle against false or misleading information is hard. That said, supporting and financing freedom of expression and independent media and improving people's media literacy yields results even if progress comes slower than we would like, Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets writes.
Estonia has done a lot to promote media freedom in the world this year. Our leading role in the Media Freedom Coalition saw us organize a successful media freedom conference in Tallinn mid-February. Events over two days hosted, either physically or virtually, ministers and diplomats from over 50 countries, as well as hundreds of journalists, civil society and private sector representatives and academics.
The few dozen events of the conference, on top of the main program, painted a diverse but also a rather sad picture of global media freedom. Twenty journalists working on environmental topics have been killed in recent years. The worsening global human rights and media freedom situation and insufficient funding mean independent publications are struggling to survive in many countries.
There are many dangers and threats against freedom of the press. All the more reason to value Estonia's high places in press and internet freedom rankings and recognize the brilliant work of our journalists.
Unfortunately, the situation is just the opposite in neighboring Russia. Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitri Muratov talked about the free media's shrinking playing field in Russia at the Tallinn conference.
Exactly two weeks later, Russia launched a full-scale war against Ukraine after lengthy preparations using propaganda, efforts to disseminate misinformation and various hybrid warfare measures. The media is used to hide and distort the truth of atrocities and crimes against humanity committed by Russian forces in Ukraine. One example is a media ban on referring to the war as such.
A few weeks ago, human rights activist and journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza was illegally detained in Russia after openly criticizing the regime and condemning the war. Dmitri Muratov fell victim to a vicious attack in the Moscow metro just recently but has nevertheless decided to stay in the country. Even if he can no longer work at the Novaya Gazeta. His Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech sums up journalists' dedication to their work and its goals:
"The caravan drives forward because the dogs bark. They growl and savage the predators in the mountains and the desert. The caravan can move forward only with the dogs around. Yes, we growl and bite. Yes, we have sharp teeth and strong grip. But we are the prerequisite for progress. We are the antidote against tyranny."
Unfortunately, Reporters Without Borders tells us that Russia's horrid military campaign in Ukraine has cost the lives of seven journalists. The most recent casualty occurred as a result of Russian bombing during UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres' Kyiv visit. Eleven journalists have been injured in the conflict. They were all reporting on and recording Russian war crimes in Ukraine. This information, paid for in lives and journalists' self-sacrificing acts, will become invaluable evidence in international trials.
What can likeminded states do to help when human rights, media freedom and democracy are in decline?
They can join forces. For example, by participating in the Media Freedom Coalition or the Summits for Democracy initiative led by the U.S. Many countries made pledges of funding and activities to support media freedom at the Tallinn conference.
Estonia and other members of the Media Freedom Coalition apply constant and systemic diplomatic pressure in countries where it is needed most. That said, we need to realize that problems are seen differently in different parts of the world. For example, eight journalists covering cartel violence in Mexico have been killed since the start of 2022.
Reporters Without Borders tells us there is wide consensus in the world that combating impunity of criminals is a crucial aspect of protecting journalists. It is also one of the pillars of Estonia's human rights policy. It is also important to support civil society representatives and journalists escaping from censorship, conflicts and wars.
We also emphasized the links between media and internet freedom at the Tallinn conference. Digital topics and e-solutions for the promotion of democracy constitute our contribution to the Summits for Democracy process. The Tallinn conference was our pledge as part of the Year of Action.
UN member states celebrate various thematic days, with May 3 declared press freedom day. However, we should highlight the importance of the free press every single day.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski