On World Press Freedom Day on Monday, U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. invoked African journalists’ declaration 13 years ago in Windhoek, Namibia, that asserted that “a free press is essential to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation, and for economic development.”
“Thirty years ago today, in the face of constant pressure and violence, African journalists came together to issue the Windhoek Declaration, which asserted that, “[t]he establishment, maintenance and fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press is essential to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation, and for economic development,” President Biden wrote in a statement released by the White House. “Then, as now, we celebrate the courage of truth-tellers who refuse to be intimidated, often at great personal risk, and we reaffirm the timeless and essential role journalism and a free media play in societies everywhere.”
The President said “journalists uncover the truth, check the abuse of power, and demand transparency from those in power.”
“They are indispensable to the functioning of democracy. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, journalists and media workers have been on the front lines to keep the public informed, at significant risk to their own health. And, at a time when the truth is increasingly under attack, our need for accurate, fact-based reporting, open public conversation, and accountability has never been greater.
“It is incumbent on all of us to counter these threats to a free and independent media, including physical risk and arbitrary detention. The Committee to Protect Journalists found that, in 2020, a record number of journalists were imprisoned globally. Online abuse and harassment of journalists, particularly women and journalists of color, continues to increase. Authoritarians are striving to undermine the free press, manipulate the truth, or spread disinformation even as a shrinking news industry is creating more and more “news deserts,” areas without local media, around the world. These attacks are nothing less than a threat to democracies everywhere.
“Today, on World Press Freedom Day, we celebrate the fierce bravery of journalists everywhere. We recognize the integral role a free press plays in building prosperous, resilient and free societies. And we recommit to protecting and promoting free, independent, and diverse media around the world,” added President Biden.
Journalism is under threat in many parts of Africa. In a new report released on Monday, Amnesty International said the past year has seen a “blatant attack on independent journalism” across East and Southern Africa with journalists systematically targeted and dissent silenced.
“What we have witnessed in the past year, as far as media and journalistic freedom is concerned, can only be described as a dark period,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.
The importance of access to information has increased over the past year in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and widespread humanitarian crises. Yet, national authorities across the region have regularly taken steps to suppress truths and intimidate journalists.
“This blatant attack on independent journalism across the region – sends a chilling message that dissent and the uncovering of uncomfortable truths will not be tolerated. National authorities across East and Southern Africa must stop this roll back of media freedoms and ensure that media professionals are safe and protected to do their job,” said Muchena.