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UN chief urges all nations to stop targeting media and truth

UN chief urges all nations to stop targeting media and truth
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United Nations, May 3 (AP) The United Nations chief warned on the eve of World Press Freedom Day that the media is under attack in every corner of the world and urged all nations to stop the targeting of truth and those who report it.

 Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the 50 per cent increase in the killing of media workers in 2022 “unbelievable,” stressing that freedom of the press “is the foundation of democracy and justice” and it is under threat.

At least 67 media workers were killed in 2022. In addition, digital platforms and social media have made it easier for extremists to push false narratives and harass journalists.

“Truth is threatened by disinformation and hate speech seeking to blur the lines between fact and fiction, between science and conspiracy,” Guterres said.

Guterres said the collapse of the media industry, which has led to closures of local news outlets and consolidation of media “into the hands of the few” is threatening freedom of expression.

So are threatening new laws passed by governments worldwide, such as Russia’s 2022 law that anyone publishing information about its military that Moscow deems to be false could face up to 15 years in prison.

Russia detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in late March under accusations of spying, which the Journal denies. The Biden administration has said Gershkovish is being wrongfully detained and has been working to secure his release.

Guterres strongly criticised the targeting of media workers both on and offline, saying they are routinely harassed, intimidated and detained. He added that nearly three-quarters of women journalists have experienced violence online and one-quarter have been threatened physically.

Guterres made the remarks in a video message for the U.N. commemoration of the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, which the U.N. General Assembly first proclaimed in December 1993 and authorised to be held every May 3.

The secretary-general said the world must unite to stop threats, attacks and imprisonment of journalists for doing their jobs, and stop the lies and disinformation.

“As journalists stand up for truth, the world stands up with them,” he said.

Audrey Azoulay, director-general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which organised the commemoration, said the advent of the digital era has changed the entire information landscape.

While digital platforms have provided new ways for expression and information, she said, “they are also proving fertile ground for those who sow disinformation, hate speech and conspiracy theories.”

“We find ourselves at a new crossroads,” Azoulay said. “Our current path is leading us away from informed public debate towards even more polarisation,” she warned. “The other path is one we must imagine together, to ensure information can remain a public good, accessible to all.”

Azoulay said UNESCO in 2021 launched a model curriculum for teachers on media and information literacy “to develop critical mindsets to navigate these new flows.”

Given that the business models of digital platforms are based on the number of clicks, she said, they “all too often favour sensationalism over truth.”

Azoulay said that’s why UNESCO in February organised a global conference to address this issue with a goal of ensuring “that technology helps our shared values and promotes human rights rather than harming them.” It was attended by over 4,000 interested parties. This was “a decisive step,” she said, toward publication later this year by UNESCO of a set of guidelines on the moderation and selection of online content just as it did for broadcasting nearly 20 years ago, she said.

Guilherme Canela De Souza Godoi, who heads UNESCO’s section on Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists, told a news conference that Tuesday’s commemoration is a kickoff for more than 60 events in 60 countries and over 40 events in New York City to highlight World Press Freedom Day’s 30th anniversary and the unacceptable decline in media freedom.

He cited UNESCO statistics released last year that 85 per cent of the world’s population experienced the downsizing of their freedom in the last five years.

A recent UNESCO survey found that journalists covering protests in 65 countries in all regions have been attacked, Canela said, while other recent data shows that judicial systems increasingly harass journalists in all regions, “with 160 countries still keeping freedom of expression under criminal codes” that can lead to journalists’ imprisonment.

The presidents of the U.N. General Assembly, Economic and Social Council, UNESCO General Conference and Human Rights Council signed a joint statement urging “a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference” and to promote and safeguard the rights to freedom of opinion and expression. (AP)

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