Saturday, May 3 was World Press Freedom Day, when we celebrate the vital contributions of free media around the world. Unfortunately, journalists, independent media outlets, and the legal and constitutional freedoms they depend on to do their jobs are all under attack in many parts of the world.
Freedom of the press is one of the cornerstones of democracy — without a free media to provide citizens with the information they need to hold elected leaders accountable, the institutions of democracy simply cannot function.
The latest edition of Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press index, released on Friday, shows that the proportion of the global population living in countries with a free press has declined to its lowest level in over a decade — just 14 percent. The growth of new online and social media outlets in particular has triggered an authoritarian backlash as countries from Russia to Turkey to Venezuela to Thailand crack down on these new forms of communication.
These trends are especially worrying because, as a recent analysis from the Center for International Media Assistance shows, declines in press freedom “almost always accompany or foreshadow a downturn in freedom more broadly.” In other words, silencing the media is often the first step down the path to authoritarian rule.
To help combat this trend, CIPE supports a number of partners around the world who are working to increase the effectiveness of the media by increasing government transparency; encouraging political parties and candidates to articulate their policy promises and then holding them accountable; and improving the quality of reporting on economic and business issues.
Sometimes having a free press means hearing uncomfortable truths or political opinions you disagree with. But this is the bedrock on which functioning democracies are built.
Jon Custer is Social Media / Communications Coordinator at CIPE.