Press Freedom Roundtable

The WAN-IFRA Press Freedom Round Table is held Sunday in Torino, Italy, where top media executives give their insight on an important question: “Is press freedom in democratic countries a trend in decline?”

by WAN-IFRA Staff | June 9, 2014

The discussion begins with a video showing the treatment of journalists in Ukraine, where they were being targeted with violence including rubber bullets and flashbang grenades.

Aidan White, moderator of the roundtable and director of the Ethical Journalism Network, discusses the treatment of journalists not only in Ukraine, but around the globe. “People who should be receiving medals are in fact being put on trial by their government,” White says.

Francine Cunningham, executive director of the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association, is the first participant of the round table to tackle the question. Cunningham says there is a clash over data protection regulation where journalistic processing was exempted, but that may change. “They are going to start monitoring the media,” she says.

Although journalists use it as part of their reporting, there is a question as to whether the exemption will be kept up for EU journalists. “I think the EU should be happy they still have quality media, and a variety of quality media,” she says.

Another viewpoint is brought to the table by Mario Calabresi, editor-in-chief of La Stampa in Italy. “I don’t think press freedom is in decline,” he said.

Calabresi tells a story in which a senator once succeeded in blocking a northern Italian newspaper from making it to the press because of the content of the paper. The printers were told the paper could not be printed due to a technical fault during the night. After the senator was appointed to government, news of what happened spread and editors came to the defence of the journalists who wrote the story. Most importantly, the public made its opinion clear. “A lot of people started to say to the prime minister, ‘Come on, it’s not possible to have a person like that in the government,’” he says.

The senator resigned two days later.

Calabresi uses this story to show the concept of solidarity between publishers and editors in order to stand together on issues of mutual interest.

One participant says that when it comes to putting forth regulations in media, the same set may not be the best for everyone. “One size doesn’t fit all,” says Randi Øgrey, CEO of Mediebedriftene in Norway and member of the WAN-IFRA Press Freedom and Media Development Board.

She continues her point by saying each country should make its own path and can help with this by having codes of conduct. Further, she explains, lobbying can remind lawmakers of the importance of freedom of press when it comes to democracy.

Hoosain Karjieker, CEO of Mail & Guardian and chairman of Print and Digital Media South Africa, discusses press freedom in South Africa with a continued celebration of democracy, but also the state of journalists around the world. “Journalists continue to be arrested and imprisoned in many countries,” he said.

This is followed up by the next speaker, who says 2013 was one of the worst in recent years for press freedom in Latin America. “Press freedom is really in decline,” says Claudio Paolillo, editor at Revista Busqueda in Uruguay and chairman of the Press Freedom Committee, Inter American Press Association. He says that along with the deaths, the message of journalism is being affected itself. “This is a problem of national security,” he said.

The final speaker also weighs in on the question. “Is press freedom in decline?” Guy Berger asks. “I would say if you look at the freedom side, there is really good news actually.” Berger, director of the Division of Freedom of Ex-pression and Media Development at UNESCO, discusses media in the topics of independence, gender and safety, and how others are becoming a part of it all.

“We are seeing more and more state involvement,” he says. Despite different degrees of press freedom around the world, Berger believes there is one freedom that all countries should protect.

“Every human being is entitled to freedom of expression, and that means freedom of the press,” he says. “No compromising.”

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