Honoring Journalists on World Press Freedom Day

By Kathy Gest

About 25 years ago I represented the United States at a meeting on working conditions for journalists put on by the International Labour Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. The delegates were journalists, employers and government representatives from 25 countries from such varied locations as Australia, Denmark, Senegal, Tunisia, the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe. Topics included, among other things, debates on the fair treatment of freelancers by news organizations, stresses of the job and how to define who was a journalist.

Kathy-GestThis gathering took place in the days before the immediacy of the Internet made us all instantly privy to the ongoing horrendous attacks on journalists who go to the most dangerous places on Earth to report the news. Just this week in Kabul, 10 journalists were killed and another six injured in an attack by the Islamic State, where, in a particularly diabolical twist, one of the suicide bombers masqueraded as a journalist before detonating his explosives.

Attacks on journalists are nothing new. Some 1,290 journalists – not including this week’s toll – have been killed since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. But today, in addition to worrying about their physical safety, journalists must protect their information and communications in ways never contemplated by those of us who met in Geneva. If the same conference were held today, we would be talking about cybersecurity, fake news and what was being done to protect journalists from the hazards of reporting from conflict zones.

Also on the agenda would be the growing antagonism toward journalists. In the words of a new study from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on media freedom, “Hostility towards the media, openly encouraged by political leaders, and the efforts of authoritarian regimes to export their vision of journalism pose a threat to democracies.” This is true not just in places like Turkey, Venezuela and the Philippines but also in the United States, where our freedom rank by RSF has fallen from 41 in 2016 to 45 today.

These developments make it crystal clear that preserving the press freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment to our Constitution is more important than ever. That is part of the mission of the National Press Foundation as we train journalists to deal with new perils, new reporting methods and new subject matter in an increasingly dangerous world.  Reiterating these goals  on World Press Freedom Day could not be more timely.

Editor’s Note: Kathy Gest is chair of the National Press Foundation’s Board of Directors.