World Press Freedom Day: 46 Journalists Killed Worldwide in 2021

Today is World Press Freedom Day. It acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. It is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.

It is an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; assess the state of press freedom throughout the world; defend the media from attacks on their independence and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

This year’s World Press Freedom Day theme “Journalism under digital siege,” spotlights the multiple ways in which journalism is endangered by surveillance and digitally-mediated attacks on journalists, and the consequences of all this on public trust in digital communications.

The latest UNESCO World Trends Report Insights discussion paper “Threats that Silence: Trends in the Safety of Journalists,” highlights how surveillance and hacking are compromising journalism. Surveillance can expose information gathered by journalists including from whistle-blowers, and violates the principle of source protection, which is universally considered a prerequisite for freedom of the media and is enshrined in UN Resolutions.

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Surveillance may also harm the safety of journalists by disclosing sensitive private information, which could be used for arbitrary judicial harassment or attack.

There is a growing global push encouraging more transparency regarding how Internet companies exploit citizens’ data; how that data informs predictive models and artificial intelligence, and enables amplification of disinformation and hatred.

This was underlined in the Windhoek+30 Declaration call for technology companies to “work to ensure transparency in relation to their human and automated systems.”

Over the past few years, the African regional and sub regional courts have handed down important decisions impacting on States’ obligations to uphold press freedom and protect the right to freedom of expression as prescribed by the Banjul Charter.

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As of 2021, Eritrea and Djibouti had the least freedom of the press in Africa, with 81.45 and 78.62 points in the press freedom index, respectively. On the other hand, Namibia and Cabo Verde obtained the lowest scores on the continent, showing a satisfactory situation. The press freedom index determines the levels of media freedom in each country, evaluating media independence, pluralism, legislation, and the safety of journalists. The index ranks from zero, a good situation, to 100, a very serious situation regarding press freedom.

Data gathered from countries across the globe revealed that 46 journalists were killed worldwide in 2021. Journalism may not be considered the most dangerous profession in the world, but the risks for those entering into certain segments of the industry are clear. After a peak in 2012 when 147 journalists were killed, thankfully the numbers decreased, and 2021 saw the lowest number of journalists killed since 2003.

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