What #PressFreedom means, worldwide

Takeaways from our weeklong series on global press freedom

By Danna Fakhoury, AJ+ Global Engager

Throughout the last week, AJ+ has featured firsthand accounts from journalists and bloggers fighting intimidation and censorship. We sought to highlight their experiences in honor of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

Our series began with Afghan journalist Mukhtar Wafayee and the deteriorating situation of press freedom in the post-Taliban era, where journalists have been subjected to unchecked intimidation and violence. Wafayee was beaten in 2014 by supporters of a local lawmaker after reporting on election violations. He wrote that although the government has moved to support freedom of expression constitutionally, they still have a hostile view toward the media and limit the information available to journalists.

“Two nights after the publication of [the article], I was going home from my workplace when several men on motorcycles approached me, and after a very short Q&A session about my report, started beating me up, hitting my face and hands with their rifle butts. I fell unconscious and fell on the ground, and when I came to, there was no one around to help me,” Wafayee told Human Rights Watch.

Intimidation and violence proved to be recurring themes in our conversations with some journalists. Investigative reporter Daniel Suárez Pérez spoke to AJ+ about the dangers of being a journalist in Colombia, where more than 30 journalists have been attacked or threatened since the start of 2015 as the war between the government, guerrilla groups and paramilitaries wages on.

“The fact is that as journalists, we are always at risk if we end up investigating something. We’re in the middle of a conflict and anything related to the conflict involves someone who has perpetrated violence, or an armed group.” — Daniel Suárez Pérez

Moscow-based journalist Natalia Antonova shared her experience as a journalist in a country where she says “there is very little public demand for a free press that encourages genuinely competing narratives.”

Student journalists aren’t immune from institutional pressure either. As Canadian student publisher Dani Saad told AJ+, “How campus media gets their money dictates how free they are to report.” Saad’s “University journalism 101” post revealed that student journalists are often lectured about what is “good for the school.” University press outlets have been subject to intimidation and censorship from administrators.

“As sad as it is, campus media are equally consumed with the news as they are with the debate over their right to exist.” — Dani Saad

For Saudi-based blogger Omar J., the discussion of what was deemed “immoral” by Saudi cyber law resulted in a surge of online threats and the eventual blocking of his LGBTQ blog. Omar reports that many of his friends have shut down their online accounts, with some even opting to move out of the country.

“I don’t know what the future for Saudi press freedom is online, but from the rumors we hear about upcoming cybersecurity centers and data-monitoring projects, it doesn’t seem good.” — Omar J.

In other parts of the world, the state of press freedom appears less dire.

In Ghana, some journalists have gone “democrazy” due to open press laws. Citi FM radio’s Philip Ashon says journalists in the country have been able to report with few limitations, resulting in a surplus of unchecked media outlets and cases of unfounded reporting.

“Every freedom comes with responsibility, every right comes with its limitations, because where someone’s rights begin is where someone’s freedom begins.” — Philip Ashon
A sampling of Ghanaian newspapers.

In the lead up to World Press Freedom Day, we posed the question, “What does press freedom mean to you?” on Twitter. People across the globe shared their thoughts. These are some of their responses:

Journalists around the world face threats, intimidation and, in extreme cases, death for their commitment to reporting. The stories highlighted in this post only reflect a small portion of the press freedom issues that take place worldwide, every day.

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