(Commentary) Kuhmo, Finland: I am still meandering along the border separating Finland from Russia. Everywhere I go, I enjoy the benefits of a press card that grants me freedom to knock on doors. On the other side of the border, the situation is a stark opposite.
Earlier this week, the world’s Press Freedom Day came and went in utmost silence. No flags flying from public buildings. No one in the streets to celebrate the right to free and independent information.
Perhaps not so strange. The freedom of the press has maybe never before had poorer conditions than they do right now.
Hardly green anywhere
Every year, the international organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) publishes an index about the current status of press freedom. A map colored from green to red, where green represents the freedom to express. The challenge – or the tragedy, if you will – is that the green color is barely visible at all. It is mostly present in the Nordic countries. Only in eight countries around the entire world can the state of press freedom be described as good.
Bereft of the opportunity to follow the war
In Russia, independent journalists flee the country to survive. Inhabitants in Russia are bereft of any opportunity to follow the war led by their despotic leaders in Ukraine. However, the Russian censorship and news control does not stop at the country’s own border. Rather, it reaches far into more democratic countries. The internet is regulated, and foreign media channels are blocked.
Crushing press freedom
That is the only way in which it is possible to force an apparent support for the ongoing war. Without strict control over the media, the bestiality of the war would have been revealed by Putin’s suppressed subjects. A free press could have led to a rebellion that is only prevented through persecution, bans and punishment for those who raise their voice against the dictatorship’s iron fist around freedom of thought and free speech.
We, who live in one of the few countries in the world in which press freedom is blooming, are prone to take this freedom for granted.
Perhaps we shouldn’t.
The truth was systematically neglected and ridiculed
Just look to the USA, a country that we historically tend to look at as the beacon of press freedom. That is no longer the case. Under the leadership of Donald Trump, the country was polarized and national, independent news media were labeled enemies of the current power holder. The truth was systematically neglected and ridiculed at the benefit of conspiracy theories. Even major news outlets such as Fox News eagerly took on the role as the best friend of lies and conspiracies.
The goals was to undermine the right and duty of the free press to inform and reveal abuse of power. And the strategy was successful, both in the USA as well as in other countries slowly abandoning democracy and entering political dark champers. Main Stream Media became the new label of independent journalism, a curse adopted by frighteningly many people.
The term has ben used in Norway too, however, so far without any further repercussions than a few web sites for the few who want to make up their own reality.
I think about this while I drive through countries with sufficient economy and democracy to keep an independent press. That is a privilege for us journalists, and it is also a great privilege for the people of a country.
We should perhaps be better at reminding ourselves of just that.
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This commentary was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.