The Battle for Press Freedom Needs Young Champions
Press freedom is one of the most important rights in a free society. In the United States, this right is enshrined in the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids any law infringing the freedom of the press. However, today, global press freedom is under attack around the world. A recent wave of violence and repression against independent media outlets and journalists threatens to do lasting harm to free information access. As reporters increasingly face intimidation and legal repercussions, disinformation is simultaneously decreasing public confidence that the media can report honestly and effectively.
It is in this environment that young global leaders must step up to support the essential right to a free press and access to information. For me, being a Press Intern at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and the Editor-in-Chief of my university’s newspaper has taught me the importance of youth involvement in the battle to uphold press freedom. Young people across the globe, whether they be journalists, activists, or political scientists, can be a uniquely powerful force to champion press freedom and keep their governments accountable.
A Year of New Setbacks – and Needs
The past year, marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, saw a notable uptick in abuses against journalists. Many governments have used virus restrictions to erode traditional media freedoms to suppress opposition and, in some cases, dismantle the free press altogether. These attacks are not just happening in far-flung dictatorships, but also in democracies with traditionally strong legal protections for the press. According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, 415 journalists were assaulted and 153 arrested in the United States between May 26, 2020, and May 25, 2021, a period that saw nationwide unrest amid the 2020 Presidential election, pandemic restrictions, and nationwide protests for racial justice. Additionally, according to the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index, democracies in Poland and Hungary registered large declines in press freedom thanks to harsh government media regulations adopted in the name of fighting COVID.
Despite this grim outlook, journalists around the world continue to do critical work exposing injustice, including those spawned by the pandemic. Reporters, such as those recently honored with the 2021 Pulitzer Prizes, risk their safety to bring the public important information and stories. As the world continues to deal with the ramifications of COVID-19, information freedom and fair journalism will prove even more important to a world in crisis and recovery at the same time.
A Call to Action…and Keyboards
With press freedom declining and further challenges on the horizon, young changemakers will have to be ever vigilant to guard against further abuses. While watching the news and staying informed may have worked before, COVID-19 has created an environment that requires far more activism than ever before. Fortunately, as the first digital generation in history, we have numerous tools at our disposal to deal with these challenges. Thanks to the internet and social media, young activists can spread messages further and faster than ever before. Organizations like the RSF, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Freedom of the Press Foundation do incredible work advocating for global press freedom and deserve support. Young people can even appeal directly to their governments to support pro-press freedom policies and legislation. Whatever the method, young people can and should use their voices to bolster these essential rights across the globe to ensure free and fair information access for all.
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