May 3rd has been International Press Freedom Day since 1993.
That day underscores the importance of having an informed society and reminds governments of their obligation to respect and uphold the freedom of the press and freedom of expression (enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
On that day, the United Nations selects one key theme, around which the main conference and various events take place. The basis for the selection of topics is the study and monitoring of the relations between the media and the authorities.
The theme for 2021 is “Information as a Public Good.” It urges to establish and nurture information as an important component of public life, and therefore as a good.
And like any public good, it needs public support and care. “In this context, it is timely to recognize and promote the conception of information as a public good – as something that helps to advance collective aspirations and which forms the key building block for knowledge,” the UN annual report said.
To highlight the importance of information online, the UN has identified three important sub-topics:
1. Steps to ensure the economic viability of the media.
The competition of internet companies, the reduction of advertising in the media and the financial problems are the challenges that have made the media vulnerable.
The report says that when the economic independence of the media is endangered, it also affects editorial independence, as the risk of interference and control by the government, advertisers or the media owner increases.
And if there is public involvement in the media economy, there is a need for clear guarantees that the money invested will not become a tool to reward in one case and punish in the other.
2. Mechanisms that will ensure the transparency of Internet companies.
Internet companies – social media platforms, communications and search service providers – are constantly being criticized for making money from content streams where there is a lot of misinformation. Or content that violates human rights.
And since the existence of journalism is mediated by those companies, there is a demand for business transparency. Now, many internet giant companies are non-transparent, which does not allow for establishing and developing a responsive information policy.
Digital transformations change our daily habits, and many of us ignore the internal rules and algorithms that Internet companies work with, what they do with anonymous data.
In addition, many online platforms themselves are spreading misinformation and hate speech with unprecedented speed and volume. This is their business model, which aims to attract and retain the attention of users through targeted advertising.
Another reason for criticism is the influence of internet companies on elections when an attempt is made to make a campaign in favor of this or that candidate. Also to spread enmity, conspiracy theories and calls for violence.
In this case, the content of the media is not considered a unique product or source, interfering with the information flows created by Internet companies.
Misinformation and hate speech are extremely complicated and difficult phenomena, which cannot be solved only by state structures. There is a need for cooperation between different parties: academia, civil society, fact-finding and media producers.
The idea of transparency is an integral part of UNESCO’s concept of Internet universality. Without transparency, without respect for human rights (in combination and moderation) in the online space, abuses and violations can occur that will not even be realized or compensated.
The UN report says that digital ecology, which is not open to all, can lead to covert dominance and unintended use of data, as well as hide the result of algorithms, which will have a negative impact on human rights.
3. Enhancing the capacity of media and information literacy, which will help people to recognize and evaluate, as well as protect and enforce journalism as a part of information important for life, as a public good.
By consuming unprecedented streams of information and misinformation, entertainment, data and other types of content, people run the risk of being misled and manipulated. In particular, through personalized targeting of algorithms.
Media and Information Literacy (MIL) skills help to develop critical thinking, reasoning and decision making.
They are a tool through which citizens are informed about their rights to free expression and emphasize the role of journalists as trusted information producers.
The content we consume affects not only our daily decisions but also our beliefs and relationships. That is why MIL is like a developing and growing body, including knowledge, values and skills.
Media literacy not only helps to search for and find reliable information but also shapes our identity (for example, through social media or advertising).
The MIL is also crucial to the freedom of the press and the safety of journalists. If the audience cannot recognize journalism or underestimates the role of journalism, the idea that information is a public good is shaken.
And if society demands the work of professional journalists and is ready to protect journalists from attacks, as a result, information stability increases.
MIL is an important toolkit dealing with educational, cultural and social contexts.
This year, the annual World Press Freedom Day conference is being held in the Namibian capital of Windhoek (where a declaration of free, independent and pluralistic media was adopted thirty years ago).
The conference participants called for immediate action to counter threats to independent local media that weaken the media around the world.
Ahead of May 3, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recorded a video message in which he spoke about the important role of journalists and media workers, especially during epidemics and natural disasters.
“Journalists help to navigate in a rapidly changing and often oppressive information environment, excluding dangerous inaccuracies and false information,” he said.
In many countries, journalists are exposed to new restrictions, censorship, pressure, and harassment simply because they are doing their job.
Guttierez also spoke about the economic component. As the coronavirus has severe financial consequences, the media has to resist for its own existence.
The smaller the media budgets, the more difficult it is to access reliable information. “Rumours, falsehoods and extreme or divisive opinions surge in to fill the gap.”
This is relevant in all countries, as we all live in a changing environment of communication that affects our health, our rights, our democracy and our sustainable development.
The world media field with the hashtags #WorldPressFreedomDay and #PressFreedom will speak on May 3 about the economic problems of the media, the role of the reporting guardian of giant internet companies and the dire demand for media literacy.
Also to think about how money affects journalism and how much consumers are willing to pay for quality media content. The UN report also talks about the misconception that quality journalism should be free. This is becoming more and more difficult, given that free offers do not always indicate independent journalism, especially in the case of local news in the local language.
Emphasizing the importance of information in this new ecosystem, it is important to address the potential for media viability, Internet platform transparency, and user literacy. And consider all these factors as an interconnected chain.
Information is the right of every individual, but its accessibility, relevance and recognition is a common concern.