Information as a Public Good
Every year, 3 May is observed as World Press Freedom Day to celebrate and evaluate the fundamental principles of press freedom, defend the media from attacks on their independence and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives while being on duty. The UN proclaimed world Press Freedom Day in 1993. It is in response to the landmark “Windhoek Declaration” on media pluralism and independence. UNESCO believes that freedom to express is at the core of building sustainable peace. Changing communications system is impacting our health, human rights, democracies, and sustainable development. This year’s World Press Freedom Day theme, “Information as a Public Good”, serves as a call to strengthen journalism and advance transparency and empowerment and leave no one behind.
Before the invention of the printing press, word of mouth was the primary source of news. Returning merchants, sailors and travellers brought information back to the mainland. Since the 18th-century, newspapers have always been the primary medium of journalists. It was Radio and television in the 20th century and the Internet in the 21st century. The changing technology saw a steady increase in “the scope of news available to us and the speed with which it is transmitted.
In the top twenty most circulated newspapers, five are from Japan, seven from India, four from China, three from the USA, one from Germany. “Yomiuri Shimbun” from Japan has the highest circulation globally, followed by Indian Newspaper “Dainik Jagaran”. USA Today is the highest circulated newspaper in the USA and Bild in Germany.
The first form of a newspaper reported to have been launched in India was the Bombay Courier in 1792. “Bengal Gazette”, the first newspaper under Indian Administration, appeared in the year 1816. The first issue of Times of India was brought out in 1861 by merging “Bombay Standard”, “Bombay Times”, and “Telegraph”. Raja Ram Mohan Roy was one of the pioneers of Indian language journalism.
The Audit Bureau of Circulations of India indicated that the largest read local language newspapers are Hindi papers Dainik Bhaskar and Dainik Jagran. The Times of India is the most widely read English language newspaper, followed by Malayala Manorama, Amar Ujala, Hindustan Times, Eenadu(Telugu), Daily Thanthi (in Tamil), Anandabazar Patrika (Bengali). Despite television penetration to the Indian households, the print press is attracting more advertisers, making up 47% of the whole share. One of the reasons for the digital phase not affecting India is that only 7% have access to reliable Internet. There are 162 million readers of dailies, with regional language papers dominating the numbers.
One would be alarmed to know that Journalism is restricted in well over two-thirds of the countries across the globe. The 2021 World Press Freedom Index states that journalism is “totally blocked or seriously impeded” in 73 nations. Europe and the Americas are the most favourable regions for press freedom. The COVID pandemic is being used to block journalists’ access to information sources and reporting in the field. Countries like China, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia, and Indonesia have highly restricted policies on press reporting. Several countries in Africa showed significant improvements in press freedom.
The UNESCO notification indicates that since 1993 a total of ~1,450 journalists have been killed in the line of duty. Every year around 100 journalists killed and 250 imprisoned. Over the years, Turkey and China have consistently vied for the unenviable title as the world’s worst jailer of journalists. The brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi is a stark reminder of countries like Saudi Arabia towards critical journalism.
The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, “Information as a Public Good”, underlines the indisputable importance of verified and reliable information. It calls attention to the essential role of free and professional journalists in producing and disseminating this information, by tackling misinformation and other harmful content.”Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO
The health crisis arising out of the COVID pandemic has created new challenges to the safety of journalists in addition to the ones they face regularly. UNESCO has urged the Member States to ensure that journalists can perform without interference or undue limitations. Journalists on duty during the COVID times are identified as crucial workers equivalent to the health workers and those providing essential public services. It is the dedication and commitment of these journalists and reporters working under enormous pressure, ensuring that the public gets the correct information, be it the crisis like the COVID pandemic or armed conflicts in many countries.
Information is an entitlement of everyone, but its availability, prominence and recognition are a common concern. Access to reliable information is vital, especially in an era of misinformation. It is a priority to reinforce the transparency of online platforms, strengthen media and information literacy capacities in times of disinformation and hate speech.
Next time you pick up the newspaper to read or browse the Internet to get the information, think of those who work relentlessly to provide it for you. As an individual who has access to the news, take responsibility while sharing and spreading. Misinformation and the speed with which it can spread the advances in technological platforms, making it easier, is the challenge.
Freedom of expression is paramount. Equally important is the realisation that the Public Good is at the center of this freedom.