May 3, 2022 - Economy

Journalism "under digital siege"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The war in Ukraine and the unprecedented number of journalists killed in Mexico this year serve as a stark reminder on this year's World Press Freedom Day that journalists around the world are facing an extraordinary level of threats.

Why it matters: The global climate for journalists has become more perilous as autocrats weaponize the media to consolidate power. Those efforts are increasingly being carried out through surveillance and digital attacks.

Driving the news: The theme for this year's World Press Freedom Day, which occurs annually on May 3, is "journalism under digital siege."

  • The day is meant to highlight the growing risks journalists face online that are compromising free and fair journalism, including digital surveillance, online threats and harassment, or laws meant to stifle digital reporting.
  • Those risks also play into the safety of journalists and their sources offline, particularly women, according to the latest safety in journalism report from UNESCO.

State of play: Around the world, the proportion of journalists killed outside of countries experiencing conflict increased significantly over the past five years.

  • In Mexico, for example, this year has already become the deadliest year on record for journalists in the country, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Nine journalists have been murdered in the country since January.

A growing challenge for press freedom is the lack of punishment for crimes against journalists. The latest UNESCO report finds no significant improvement in this arena in the past five years. Nearly nine in ten cases of killings "remain unresolved," it notes.

  • The death last week of Vira Hyrych, a journalist for the U.S.-government funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, marks the 18th journalist killed in Ukraine since Russia invaded the country in late February, according to the Ukrainian officials.
  • Targeted attacks against journalists, who are considered civilians under international humanitarian law, can be considered a war crime.

The big picture: Several factors have contributed to today's environment, including the pandemic, the rise of misinformation online and disparaging rhetoric used to describe the press by world leaders.

  • Around the world, COVID and geopolitical conflicts have given cover to over a dozen world leaders to introduce new "fake news" laws that are meant to intimidate journalists and stifle dissent.
  • Russia's new "fake news" law threatening to imprison journalists for publishing what Moscow deems to be "fake" information about Russia's invasion of Ukraine has led to an unprecedented retreat of the free press in the country, obfuscating an already isolated nation from the world.

Between the lines: Saturday's White House Correspondents' Dinner, occurring for the first time in two years, marked an important celebration of the free press in America at a time when the First Amendment is constantly being challenged.

  • In recent years, reporters have been arrested covering racial protests, blocked from government briefings and increasingly harassed in-person and online.
  • The environment reflects a growing trend of public distrust in journalists and journalistic institutions.

What to watch: On Tuesday, various organizations will host events discussing the role of the free press globally, including UNESCO, The National Press Club and affiliates of the International Federation of Journalists.

  • Reuters and CPJ have launched social media campaigns to thank journalists for their work delivering news on Ukraine.
  • Meedan, a journalism technology company, will host a Twitter Spaces event on how journalists can protect themselves from cyber threats.

Editor's note: This article was corrected to reflect that there is a lack of punishment for crimes against journalists (not a lack of impunity).

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