Press freedom has come under greater attack everywhere in the world in recent years as media houses have become more vigilant in exposing the wrongdoings of administrations, public figures and other entities, an international conference on media freedom was told yesterday.

Addressing a plenary session on the topic, ‘The fight goes on for media freedom,’ at the two-day conference organised by the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC), media experts from different parts of the world highlighted the methods adopted by governments and others to suppress media freedom.

Moderated by Fairouz Ziani from Al Jazeera Arabic, the session featured panellists such as James Tager, PEN America; Yolanda Quintana, PDLI Spain; James Cusick, editor, Openmedia, UK; and Beth Costa, general secretary, FENAJ, Brazil. 

Barbie Zelizer from Annberg School of Communication, University of Pennsylvania, also addressed the gathering through video-conferencing.

Highlighting the constraints faced by journalists and media houses in the US, Tager said: “Weeks into his presidency, President Donald Trump called many of the mainstream media houses enemy of the American people. This is not just a criticism of the media but also a demonisation of the American media, something that has never been seen in modern American political history.”

He noted that such actions erode public trust and make the work of journalists more difficult. 

“It creates and enables conditions. President Trump’s criticism of the media goes well beyond any justified criticism of the media. However, at the end of the day, demonisation of the media will succeed only if people are to believe it. To gain the trust of the people, media houses and journalists have to make their work more transparent,” Tager said.

Cusick highlighted that despite the fact that journalists are paid less than many other professionals, many bright youngsters still pursue journalism as they hope to stand as a corrective force in the society.

“Freedom of media and journalists must be preserved; otherwise, it will be taken away forever. Therefore, it is important that we stand vigilant against all the attacks on media and we are not going to keep silent against media oppression,” said Cusick.

Other panellists stressed that journalists have to continue with their efforts to make public figures and others act more responsibly and make them accountable for their actions. 
“The present situation makes government officials feel that they don’t need to be held responsible for their acts in criticising the media. This will lead several governments around the world to crack down on journalists and media houses to serve their own interests. Such a situation should not be allowed,” said Tager.