This year’s Press Freedom Day has come at a time the world would wish to forget everything else and focus on the Covid-19 pandemic, but everyone needs journalists to know what really is happening.
It is during such crises as Covid-19 that the Press is forced to compete with peddlers of fake news that either instil fear in a people or give false hope. The Press has been very instrumental in fact checking. It is also during such crises that governments may take advantage of the near 100 per cent focus on a crisis and pass repressive laws, including those that may deny or reduce Press freedom. The risk of arrests, cancelling of licences for media houses or even imprisonment on flimsy grounds are some of the threats a journalist has to contend with in the course of duty.
In this time when the world is gripped with fear, especially of the unknown, this same Press has been our source of hope, telling us of new developments, the success stories, stories of resilience of a people already ravaged by other catastrophes, but who can still afford a helping hand. Through this same Press we know we have been sitting on a lot of capacity, that we can be a little more innovative, and that we can manufacture and feed ourselves. We also know that we can do without destructive energy sources such as coal. The Press remains the public watchdog, the only hope and true friend of a people.
Where would we be without the Press!
On behalf of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) and the Civil Society Organisations that work with us, I would like to commend our scribes for always daring to dig deeper for the truth, no matter how big the threat of ruffling feathers may be. This is the true spirit of Journalism without Fear or Favour.
The Press has been part of every achievement we can claim in the civil society. Their investigative stories have informed us of the gaps that need our interventions. Scribes have highlighted stories of change on humans, for who our work is focused, all this as part of their duty. Indeed, we must keep walking together with the Press; they are not the enemy. We know the enemies of the people.
Today, as the world marks this Press Freedom Day, I choose to honour all the journalists in Africa and beyond for enlightening the world about the nexus between the Covid-19 crisis and the other crises, including climate change. That the world continues to suffer as a result of flooding, landslides, tornados and other calamities, but remains focused on Covid-19 alone is a risk we may want to deal with sooner than later. Help us project this: There will be life after Coronavirus! Help us to ensure that African governments prioritise, act and spend wisely.
Nations are not short of laws and policies that can ensure a good environment for the Press. Governments must consciously decide to let members of the Fourth Estate do their job without infringing on their rights or dangling carrots.
I urge African governments to ensure proper facilitation of journalists to access information critical for their work. Governments must spend more on building the capacities of journalists to be able to check institutions, for the good of all.
I also call upon bilateral and multilateral organisations to allocate funds for journalists to be equipped with research skills, for the benefit of the donors, governments and people targeted by civil society groups for the betterment of the world we live in.
Above all, and as is our mandate, I call upon nations to implement laws that enable proper use of any funds granted or set aside for development of our infrastructure. The Coronavirus crisis must leave us with lessons. Use donated funds well and let the Press do its job.
As Civil Society Organisations, we will continue to compliment the work of the Press and governments to make this world a better place for the biodiversity.
For scribes spending cold nights in prisons as a result of their work, we are solely behind you, and we know we shall overcome.
Happy World Press Freedom Day.
Executive Director, Pan African Climate Justice Alliance