According to a recent report, freedom of the press worldwide is at its lowest level in more than a decade. This decline has been linked to many different causes, including harassment and violence against journalists, media corruption, Internet censorship, “fake news” rhetoric, and fewer legal protections for those practicing their freedoms of expression.
In 2016, more than 250 journalists were imprisoned and 59 journalists were killed in their line of work. In Mexico alone, there were more than 420 reported attacks against journalists, and even the United Kingdom enacted the Investigatory Powers Act (also known as the “Snoopers’ Charter) to track citizens and journalists online. In Turkey, more than 150 journalists are still in prison and 170 media organizations have been shut down since the 2016 coup.
In the U.S., violence against journalists has also been increasing. Montana congressman Greg Gianforte assaulted a reporter from The Guardian shortly before he was elected to Congress, and Alaskan Senator David Wilson slapped a reporter from the Alaska Dispatch News in the face. Media organizations also have expressed concern about President Trump’s retweet of a GIF in which he threw a body — with a CNN logo as its head — to the ground.
What’s concerning about the latest attacks on our press freedoms is that they’re no longer limited to authoritarian regimes. Democratic countries with longstanding histories of press freedoms are also contributing to the climate of mistrust and violence, oftentimes through public officials trying to discredit credible news organizations and enacting legislation designed to limit press freedoms.
Without a free press, nations cannot remain democratic. Freedom of the press is integral to the well-being of a democracy by informing the public, mediating the relationship between citizens and their political representatives, and holding politicians accountable for their actions, both in office and in their everyday conduct. Since our very tenets of democracy are now at stake, we must come together to promote freedom of the press.
To protect the freedom of the press in both America and globally, citizens must come together and let their voices be heard. By contacting your congressional and local representatives to let them know you deeply value your First Amendment freedoms and want the press to remain free to report on all issues of societal concern without obstruction, you can make a difference. Additionally, you can lend monetary or volunteer support to organizations such as Free Press, which advocate on behalf of journalists and media organizations that want to preserve our most fundamental First Amendment rights.