To mark the 22nd anniversary of ‘World Press Freedom Day’, South African minister of communications, Faith Muthambi stated: “Media freedom is my right…media freedom is your right…media freedom is for all of us, therefore, all of us have a responsibility to defend media freedom and editorial independence from any form of compulsion, be it political, economic or commercial.” (http://mybroadband.co.za/news/government/163759-media-freedom-not-declining-in-south-africa-communications-minister.html).
On the 3rd May, we celebrated what’s known as “World Press Freedom Day”. The Declaration of Windhoek is a document compiled by newspaper journalists to promote an “independent and pluralistic African Press” towards the view that press freedom is crucial to democracy whilst remaining a definitive human right (http://allafrica.com/stories/201605031182.html).
The word ‘freedom’ implies the ability to do as one wants. However, this would essentially lead to a lawless society filled with chaos on all levels. In essence, freedom of speech doesn’t need to be banned or restricted in the official sense of both words, but those in power who want ultimate control, can and will easily render a country governed by laws, lawless. This control fosters a fear for the media. As you read this opinion, bear in mind that the ‘freedom’ mentioned has its definitive limitations, it comes in varying degrees particularly from a human construct perspective, and what those with the power to control ultimately do with it.
Taking a look at some stats briefly, according to the Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Boarders, the global indicator of this freedom has dropped by a significant 3.71% (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Press_Freedom_Index), with Eritrea ranked as the worst in the world. Interestingly, this country’s constitution pledges freedom of speech and of the press (https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2015/eritrea), but this is not applied in daily practice and in fact, the complete opposite is true. Furthermore, according to Elana Beiser (editorial director of the Committee to Protect Journalists), Eritrea continues to be the worst jailer of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa and the foulest abuser of due process (https://cpj.org/reports/2015/12/china-egypt-imprison-record-numbers-of-journalists-jail.php). Eritrea (and others) are basically an embodiment of how you can have laws in a society but that they are simply a means of control. In territories such as this, the law only matters if it serves those in power and when it doesn’t then it’s simply disregarded (http://sultanknish.blogspot.co.za/2012/06/lawless-society.html).
The United Nations’ 1948 ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ goes on to state that "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_the_press).
The fact remains that there is still a profoundly troublesome deterioration in the respect for media freedom and what it REALLY means to have this freedom. According to Reporters Without Boarders, the global indicator of this freedom has gone from 3719 points 3857 points over the last year. This is a massive 3.71% deterioration, and looking at the decline since 2013, they report a massive 13.6% corrosion of media freedom! (https://rsf.org/en/deep-and-disturbing-decline-media-freedom).
In the constantly evolving media landscape, it is becoming incredibly important to value and uphold what is truly known as press freedom, and to understand what this genuinely means, alongside the power it yields. With the power to connect and divide, I am lucky to be able to say that as a media monitor, I get to watch this changing dynamic on a daily basis. Working in this industry, it is increasingly evident to me how companies shy away from transparency more and more. In his book “Trust me, I’m lying”, Ryan Holiday explains that today sites and blogs are removing one’s ability to monitor what is being said by removing RSS functionality, this allows for effortless deception and the almost complete obliteration of transparency.
I guess you could say that by default, as a media monitor, the level of my media consumption is almost amplified in a way. Each and every day I see the media manipulating and being manipulated. Obsession with power and ideology stemming from societal teachings and human ego are some of the very constructs that threaten independence and suffocate our right to be free thinking individuals, and hence our ability to have informed opinions. A pertinent quote from Lysander Spooner drives the thought home and tends to make one question the media more critically – “Those who are capable of tyranny are capable of perjury to sustain it.”
Freedom is not absolute, but is freedom an existential truth?