Journalism Under Digital Siege
Veritas joins the rest of the world in commemorating World Press Freedom Day which is observed on 3rd May every year to raise awareness on the importance of freedom of expression.
Veritas strongly believes that democracies all over the world are shaped when the public is able to seek and receive, without hindrance, information and diverse opinions, which assist to make informed decisions about public affairs and how they are governed on a regular basis.
About World Press Freedom Day
The United Nations General Assembly declared 3rd May to be World Press Freedom Day or just World Press Day. It is observed to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and marks the anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration – a statement of free press principles put together by African newspaper journalists in Windhoek in 1991. This year, the United Nations Educational , Scientific and Cultural Organisation [UNESCO], which sponsors the World Press Freedom Day, said that 55 journalists and media workers were killed in 2021.
Pope Francis on Sunday paid tribute to journalists who have died or been jailed in the line of duty, defending a free press and praising those in the media who courageously report on “humanity’s wounds”. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says it has confirmed that at least seven journalists have died while covering the war in Ukraine and is investigating whether others were killed because of their work. Reporters Without Borders, which is based in Paris, says it has documented a number of attacks directly targeting journalists wearing “Press” arm bands in Ukraine. The job journalists do is neither easy nor safe.
Journalism Under Digital Siege
This year’s commemorations will focus on the theme “Journalism Under Digital Siege”, to spotlight how recent developments in technological means of monitoring and surveillance impact journalism and freedom of expression. In fact, freedom of expression and the right to privacy are among the human rights most impacted by the digital transformation.
Events to mark the day across the world will bring together relevant policymakers, journalists, media representatives, activists, internet company representatives, cyber-security managers, AI researchers and legal experts from around the world to explore the digital era’s impact on freedom of expression and the safety of journalists, access to information and privacy.
Freedom of Expression in Zimbabwe
In Zimbabwe, the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression but there is dearth in statutory laws that give effect to the relevant constitutional provisions. Since Zimbabwe attained independence in 1980, there has been a general disregard of freedom of expression and the state has focused on passing laws and practices that entrench violations of freedom of expression, prior to the coming into being of the 2013 Constitution with its comprehensive and democratic Bill of Rights.
UNESCO to Launch Report on State of Press Freedom in Southern Africa
The 2020-2021 State of Press Freedom Report in Southern Africa (SAPFR) is set to be launched during the regional event to commemorate World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) on 2 May at Holiday Inn hotel in Bulawayo. With support from UNESCO, the regional event will be coordinated by MISA Regional, working with media stakeholders.
The regional workshop will provide a platform for various media stakeholders including government officials, editors, journalists, media owners, and media civil society organisations among others to discuss papers on the state of media in the Southern Africa region.
The upcoming SAPFR 2020-2021 recognises the challenges that digital surveillance poses to journalism. For instance, the acquisition of digital surveillance tools and other forms of spyware will translate to fewer people willing to give confidential information to journalists, which will in turn undermine the right to access to information and ultimately affect democracy.
It is imperative for governments who have procured surveillance tools to remain cognisant of citizen’s rights to privacy and collection of data. Principle 41 of the Declaration on Principles of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa provides that states shall not engage in or condone acts of indiscriminate and untargeted collection, storage, analysis or sharing of a person’s communications.
Post the regional workshop, Zimbabwe will host the national WPFD commemoration event at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) on 3 May. The Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services will work with seasoned media practitioners to deliver training for 100 media and journalism students. Media veterans from the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) will present on various media topics which include offline and online safety for journalists, content development, basics in news writing, among other topics. Side exhibitions will be running concurrently with the training session.
Press Freedom in the Face of Fake News
Over the years, there has been widespread reports of Fake News particularly circulated via social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook which has led to authoritarian governments seeking for ways and means to monitor social media.
While in the pre-Internet world, freedom of expression and privacy were thought to only interact when mainstream media journalists reported on public figures in the name of the right to know -the rights have become increasingly interdependent. This linkage reflects digital business models and the development of new surveillance technologies and large-scale data collection and retention. The changes pose risks in terms of reprisals against media workers and their sources, thereby affecting the free exercise of journalism and access to information by members of the public.
To ensure that the public is informed, journalists play the role of public watch dogs by collecting and sharing information that holds government officials and other powerful actors in society to account.
Unfortunately, Veritas has noted with great concern that the working space for journalists to gather, produce and disseminate information in the country has been diminishing as state security agents and other powerful state actors resort to systematic denial of access to information, harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrests and detention.
Mainstream media has also come under heavy pressure to break news as social media is published independently without any need for fact checking and verification. This has impacted heavily on the quality of information shared by media organisations. There is need for mainstream media to adapt and reinvent itself in the face of this new challenge through training and change of delivering news.
As we commemorate the day today, there is need to interrogate how these developments impact the rights to freedom of expression, access to information as well as data protection and privacy by looking into big data related issues such as the transparency of Internet companies, digital footprints, data retention, facial recognition technologies, and artificial intelligence.
As the rest of the world commemorates World Press Freedom Day today, Veritas calls upon the Government of Zimbabwe to show commitment to the protection of journalists and the promotion of the right to freedom of expression as enshrined in the Constitution.