Media freedom refers to a situation where it is possible for journalists to freely report on issues affecting the public (Solis and Waggoner 2021). Democracy is largely represented through media freedom. A free press has the chance to inform the public about the failures and successes of their leaders, offering a platform where ideas and information can be exchanged openly and communicating the desires and needs of the people to government bodies. These crucial functions are hindered when the freedom of media is restricted. This contributes to harmful results and poor decision-making for the citizens and leaders. In the digital age, there has been a massive decline in media safety and freedom, with numerous journalists worldwide constantly facing danger (United Nations 2022). In this essay, the focus of the discussion will include how the media is currently under threat over different nations, actions taken by interested parties to improve the situation, and whether there have been any changes.
How Media is Under Threat and Recent Trends on the Issue
There has been a recent trend toward the attack on media freedom. For example, it has become common to hear news about online attacks against women journalists and rape and death threats. There are also incidences where reporters get killed while covering a story. Investigative journalism is also now being intimidated and silenced through targeted electronic surveillance. There is vast evidence that the freedom of media and the press is being attacked.
For example, an article by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) (2022) speaks of a Vietnamese journalist being imposed for the allegations of ‘abusing democratic freedoms.’ In the article dated 12th September 2022, RSF tends to condemn the actions of the authorities of Vietnam in arresting Le Anh Hung, an independent journalist. It was noted that there were efforts by the country’s authorities to eliminate all the criticism by journalists by imposing harsh sentences under the abuse of the justice system. It was sad to note that the 49-year-old Hung was sentenced to five years in prison on 30th August by a court in the capital on the accusations of ‘infringing upon the state’s interests and ‘abusing democratic freedoms.’
Hung was subjected to an unfair trial and was not allowed to hire a lawyer to defend him. His family was also prevented from seeing and contacting him since his arrest. He was also put on the longest pre-trial detention for a Vietnamese journalist, having been arrested in 2018. Vietnam is popularly known for arresting journalists, with up to 38 being jailed in the country. Hung’s only ‘mistake’ included denouncing the domination and corruption being done by the ruling party, Hoang Trung Hai, a former deputy prime minister being the main target. Hung went to call a spade a spade through his political writing by accusing Trung Hai of abuse of power, corruption, and spying for China, landing himself in trouble.
Another news coverage by the Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) (2022), dated 13th September 2022, shows that Badma Byurchiev, a Russian journalist, was assaulted in Elista. It was noted that a group of unknown individuals attacked this news reporter on 8th September while he was at his home. The CPJ quickly condemned this occurrence and urged the Russian authorities to take swift action to determine whether Badma’s attacks were associated with his journalistic duties. They also want the perpetrators to be held accountable as soon as possible.
Badma is a news reporter for Kavkazsky Uzel, an independent news website. Badma mostly covers news about human rights and politics. It is highly suspected that the attacks melted upon him are related to his journalistic duties or that he has been actively involved as an activist in protests between 2019 and 2021. The journalist claims that while he was being beaten, no words were said to him. They just questioned him at the end whether he would continue to do what he has been doing. During this period, the journalist has been covering Kavkazsky Uzel’s news about the increased political violence in Elista. Civil activists and opposition politicians have already been subjected to attacks. Hence there are high chances that even this event is linked to a similar storyline. The journalist thinks that this seems like people are being intimidated to be pushed out of Russia.
Because journalists and the press have been subjected to attack for a long period, organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) were formed to ensure that journalists are protected from harassment and harm (Hadland 2015). It was established in 1981 by a group of United States Correspondents. By taking action every time a journalist is subject to danger, the CPJ helps in protecting the free flow of commentary and news. Annually, hundreds of journalists are imprisoned, attacked, or killed. CPJ has been fighting for press freedom and defending journalists for over 40 years.
CPJ has been keeping crucial data regarding killed journalists, imprisoned journalists, missing journalists, and attacks on all journalists since 1992. This has helped them follow up on all of these issues, ensure justice is served to all attacked journalists, and ensure that the freedom of media is protected. For example, according to CPJ, 2,170 journalists and media workers have been killed between 192 and 2022 throughout the world, and some 294 journalists have been imprisoned the world over, as of 1st December 2021 (CPJ 2022b; CPJ 2022c).
The Reporters Without Border tend to offer a ranking of countries with the best and worst press freedom. Through this data, one can tell whether the freedom of the press of a certain nation has improved or deteriorated. As per the RSF Press Freedom Index 2021, Norway is the country that ranks first in the Index, a position which it has held for five consecutive years. This shows that Norway has put into place robust systems and policies that ensure that press freedom is upheld. For example, Norway has adopted a robust legal framework, ensuring that the freedom of the press is safeguarded. The country also has a vibrant media market, where the public service broadcaster is strengthened. Moreover, the private sector in Norway is highly diversified, so the publishing companies are guaranteed huge editorial independence.
Looking into the specific details regarding the strengthened media freedom in Norway, it is important to note that the audiovisual market is dominated by the NRK, the public service broadcaster. The commercial channel TV2 is the only TV competitor of NRK, secluding the pure entertainment sector. The audience records are being broken by the online version of the VG newspaper in the digital landscape. Approximately 230 news outlets serve the country. Its online environment has also offered room for developing more radical opinion journalism.
Norway’s legal and political environments have also played a role in ensuring that media freedom in the nation is upheld and sustained. Politicians in Norway have played a big role in practicing restraint regarding the news that does not favor them. They do not involve themselves in the actions of disparaging the authors of such news and labeling the news as fake. The government ministers and parliamentarians also do not engage with the editorial boards of publications that the public institutions have subsidized. The country’s constitution clearly provides the right to public information and freedom of expression. Other laws also protect such rights. A common code of ethics guides all the activities carried under the media industry in the nation.
Economically, the information about media ownership is collected, classified, and collected by the Norwegian Media Authority. The competition authorities protect pluralism in terms of ownership. Pluralism and upholding quality are promoted by the ‘zero VAT’ policy on news media. The society also plays a big role in ensuring sustained media freedom in Norway. The exchange of ideas and independent journalism is encouraged by both the state and society. Hence, any incidence targeting any media house or journalist in the country is likely to receive a maximum rejection. It is not common for media journalists to face online harassment.
Finland maintained the second position in the RSF Press Freedom Index 2021, Sweden moved from fourth the previous year to third, and Denmark occupied the fourth position, down from third. Going by the 2021 index, it appears that the Nordic Nations have put the correct measures to achieve and uphold press freedom.
In general, there is an increasing trend of media freedom being threatened in various nations worldwide. This is done in the form of journalists being killed, attacked, wrongly imprisoned, and some even going missing. The cases of journalists Badma Byurchiev and Le Anh Hung being attacked and imprisoned are just a few examples of how media freedom is threatened globally. Organizations like the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has been formed to highlight the plights journalists illegally undergo for diligently conducting their roles. Norway is one of the few nations where media freedom has improved and is upheld. This is attributable to the formation of robust systems and policies, where citizens and the state work together to uphold the highly needed media freedom.
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). 2022a. Russian journalist Badma Byurchiyev was assaulted in Elista. Accessed 14th September 2022. https://cpj.org/2022/09/russian-journalist-badma-byurchiyev-assaulted-in-elista/
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). 2022b. 2170 Journalists and Media Workers Killed. Accessed 14th September 2022. https://cpj.org/data/killed/?status=Killed&motiveConfirmed%5B%5D=Confirmed&motiveUnconfirmed%5B%5D=Unconfirmed&type%5B%5D=Journalist&type%5B%5D=Media%20Worker&start_year=1992&end_year=2022&group_by=year
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). 2022c. 294 Journalists Imprisoned. Accessed 14th September 2022. https://cpj.org/data/imprisoned/2021/?status=Imprisoned&start_year=2021&end_year=2021&group_by=location
Hadland, Adrian. 2015. “Risk and journalism in the digital age.” African Journalism Studies 36, no. (1): 129-134. https://doi.org/10.1080/23743670.2015.1008179
RSF. 2022a. Vietnamese journalist gets five years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms.” Accessed 14 September 2022. https://rsf.org/en/vietnamese-journalist-gets-five-years-prison-abusing-democratic-freedoms
RSF. 2022b. 2021 World Press Freedom Index: Journalism, the vaccine against disinformation, is blocked in more than 130 countries. Accessed 14th September 2022. https://rsf.org/en/2021-world-press-freedom-index-journalism-vaccine-against-disinformation-blocked-more-130-countries
Solis, Jonathan A., and Philip D. Waggoner. 2021. “Measuring media freedom: An Item Response Theory analysis of existing indicators.” British Journal of Political Science 51, no. (4): 1685-1704. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007123420000101
United Nations. 2022. UN expert warns of a dangerous decline in media freedom. United Nations Human Rights Office Of The High Commissioner. https://www.ohchr.org/en/stories/2022/07/un-expert-warns-dangerous-decline-media-freedom