Press Freedom Day: Independent Media Essential in Times of War

PeoplePoliticians ♦ Published: May 3, 2022; 11:47 ♦ (Vindobona)

On International Press Freedom Day, numerous international organizations highlight the importance of free journalism and the need for access to independent media. This year, the focus is on the war in Ukraine, which is characterized by propaganda and disinformation campaigns. Austria also has some catching up to do in these matters, according to a ranking by Reporters Without Borders. Read on if you want to learn more!

Press Freedom Day draws attention to international abuses in the media landscape. / Picture: © OSCE / Representative on Freedom of the Media (ID 512479) [CC BY-ND 4.0]

Today, the International Press Freedom Day is celebrated all over the world. This day, which has been held since 1994, aims to draw attention to violations of press freedom and the fundamental importance of free reporting for the existence of democracies.

This year, Press Freedom Day is clearly marked by the war in Ukraine and aims to highlight the catastrophic conditions faced by Russian journalists, as well as journalists from around the world, who report on the war.

Statements of the Council of the European Union and the OSCE

In a press release, the Council of the European Union draws attention to the many courageous journalists, camera crews, reporters, photographers and bloggers who risk their lives every day to inform the world about Russia's unprovoked and unjustified military aggression against Ukraine.

Above all, they deplore the behavior of Russian forces, which arrest, kidnap or abduct journalists and civil society actors or target them in order to suppress the truth about the real state of war.

These statements are backed up by the Council of Europe's Platform for the Protection of Journalism and the Promotion of Journalists' Safety, according to which ten Ukrainian and international media workers have already been killed and many more injured.

The Council of the EU had high praise for the journalists who report from the front line and bring to light the serious human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law by the Russian armed forces.

In doing so, they contribute significantly to the fight against disinformation and information manipulation related to the invasion.

The OSCE also draws attention to the situation in Ukraine on the occasion of the International Press Freedom Day. In a joint statement with the United Nations (UN), the African Commission on Human Rights (ACHR) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (ItACHR), they recall that freedom of expression and access to independent media are of enormous importance, especially in times of war, and that this is a cornerstone for promoting peace.

In the dispatch, they express concern about the welfare of journalists, media workers and related personnel in Ukraine, who are doing their work in unprecedented conditions and are now at very high risk.

They also emphasize that Russian propaganda for war and national hatred, which constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence, is deeply harmful. Accordingly, the disinformation campaign about the war in Ukraine is extremely worrying.

Statement of the Austrian Foreign Minister Schallenberg

On the occasion of today's World Press Freedom Day, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg stressed the importance of free journalism as a cornerstone of democracy and pointed out the dangers journalists face in their work.

Austria, he said, is working in multilateral bodies for stronger standards to protect journalists in times of peace as well as conflict, and is also supporting concrete projects that benefit those directly affected.

In March, he said, the federal government provided $100,000 (over 90,600 euros) from Austrian Development Agency (ADA) funds to UNESCO to support the work of some 1,000 independent journalists in Ukraine.

Preparations are also underway for a high-level media conference to mark the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists, to be held in Vienna in November. The event will discuss prevention, protection and prosecution of crimes against journalists, as well as take stock of the successes and challenges of the past ten years in implementing the UN Plan of Action.

Sad result for Austrian press freedom

In the annual press freedom ranking published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Austria suffered a catastrophic deterioration, slipping from 17th to 31st place, a whopping 14 places, and now finding itself in the company of countries such as Argentina or Bhutan.

With this ranking, Austria is one of the worst-ranked EU countries and accordingly has a lot of catching up to do. "The fall of 14 places from 17th to 31st place is the result of a large number of crude pinpricks against journalistic media in the last year," stressed Fritz Hausjell, President of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Austria.

Attacks on journalists at Corona demos, harassment by the police, paid polls in tabloid media and a policy characterized by corruption and bribery caused Austria to slip massively in the press freedom ranking.

Council of the European Union

OSCE Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

BMEIA Federal Ministry for Europe Integration and Foreign Affairs

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)