Freedom of the Press

Journalists express themselves through the media, whether it is by print or electronically. The establishment of the Freedom of the Press protects the freedom of communication through all channels of the media, allowing journalists to freely express themselves and share their knowledge. Legal and constitutional protections are set in place for most governments out there in order to ensure interference of press freedom. Non-democratic nations have limited freedoms for the press, designating what should be written and how. There are nations and areas completely closed off to reporters or outside press.

History of press freedom

Press and speech freedoms go back hundreds of years in almost every country. Freedom of the press laws were actively passed in 1539 in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and one of the very first actual Freedom of the Press Acts passed was in Sweden in 1766. England began their press freedoms with a system of licensing, including the Licensing of the Press Act in 1622. Without a license granted by the government, nothing could be published. In 1695, there was a halt in the act. Libel was still actively attempted, however.

Denmark-Norway in the 1770s exhibited the most open press freedom of any area in Europe during the regime of Johann Friedrich Struensee. One of his first acts during his rule was to abolish censorship laws, only to re-establish them just a year later after some judgmental and disparaging material was released against his regime.

In 1861, Italy adapted the Albertine Statute which allowed press freedoms with select few restrictions. Once the statute was removed in 1948, the Republic of Italy's Constitution guaranteed the freedom of the press. In times of complete necessity, the Constitution permits taking away publications without the need of a warrant, as long as legal validation is obtained within 24 hours of seizure.

Freedom of the Press was blocked during Hitler's reign of power in Germany during the 1930s and early 1940s. Propaganda was looked at as a positive thing and encouraged throughout the country, with pamphlets on effective propaganda openly distributed. Journalists who crossed any of the Propaganda Ministry or the Nazi Party would be tried as traitors and either killed or imprisoned.

Press Freedom Index

Today, organizations like Reporters Without Borders help rank countries by their freedom of the press. The results of a survey sent to journalists, human rights activists, and jurists are compiled to make up the Press Freedom Index. Questions include topics such as infrastructure, media independence, pluralism, self-censorship, transparency, and legislative framework. Reports of violence against members of the media are all taken into account when calculating the score as well.

The countries with the least press freedom in 2014 were Eritrea, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Syria, Iran, and China. The freest were Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, and Andorra.

Areas without press freedoms

Around one-third of people in the world do not have access to the press freedoms seen by the rest of society. This is the case due to the government needing to have strict control over what is printed or spread by the press. The majority of countries lacking press freedom facilitate state-run news organizations in order to positively promote the current political regime.

Any journalists who operate close to what these governments deem as an acceptable line are often intimidated by federal agents. Any activity passing that line is usually handled with brutal force. In 2005 alone, 63 journalists were killed throughout the world due to areas without freedom of press laws. Some journalists even spend years in prison just for using a wrong word or photograph.

World Press Freedom Day

Every year on May 3rd marks World Press Freedom Day, a day started by the United Nations General Assembly and ran by UNESCO in order to help raise knowledge on the value of press freedom. The day also helps remind governments of their duty to value and maintain the right to freedom of expression. At the celebration, a UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize to an individual, organization, or institution that has had exceptional role in the protection and promotion of press freedom globally. Each year, the conference has a theme focusing on a theme linked to press freedom. Media professionals, UN agencies, and freedom organizations get together and discuss addressing challenges and the state of press freedom internationally.

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