Some 120 students at Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan, had a taste on 25 October of UNESCO’s forthcoming report on “World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development”.
In a special lecture, the UNESCO Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, Guy Berger, asked where the world would be today “if the concept of Zero had been suppressed, Ghandi had been gagged, Copernicus was successfully censored, and poets, artists and musicians were silenced.”
Turning to journalists’ use of freedom of expression, he highlighted the value to societies of a profession that proclaimed standards of “verifiable information and informed comment in the public interest”. Most journalism needs news institutions to survive, meaning that media development was needed, said Berger.
But the trend of fatal attacks on journalists continued, reaching 530 journalists killed (38 women) between 2012 – 2016. This amounted to two deaths per week, he stated, and increasing online attacks against women journalists.
While UNESCO leads the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists on 2 November each year, said Berger, the rate of impunity has remained stubbornly over 90%.
“At the same time, a positive trend is that the response by states to UNESCO requests for information on judicial follow-up to killings of journalists has risen from 24% in 2012 to 74% during 2017,” said Berger.
On media freedom trends, the UNESCO director said there was a tightening of old curbs on journalism, and new ones were being added. However, progress had been made with 112 countries now having Freedom of Information laws, and at least 60 States protecting public sector whistle-blowers.
Dealing with media independence, Berger said this was eroding. He pointed to trust in news journalism declining, a weakening of the economic base of media outlets and populist ongoing efforts to discredit and delegitimize journalism.
As regards trends in media pluralism, Berger noted the continued heavy under-representation of women in the media in both decision-making roles and in media content.
Dr. Khalaf Tahat, vice dean of the Mass Communication Faculty at Yarmouk University, moderated the lecture and responses to questions by students.
The UNESCO Director also visited three new computer laboratories at the University, which has UNESCO supported under the “Support for Media in Jordan” project, which is funded by the European Union.
The four-year project (2014 – 2018) is implemented by the UNESCO Amman office in close collaboration with the Ministry of State for Media Affairs and the media community in Jordan.