Opinion: Why we must be robust in our defense of press freedom | Opinion | DW | 03.05.2018
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Opinion: Why we must be robust in our defense of press freedom

On World Press Freedom Day, DW's Director General Peter Limbourg pledges to defend press freedom, while marking the broadcaster’s 65th anniversary.

May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. How lovely that such a day exists. At least once every year, this human right is solemnly commemorated. Press freedom is a great topic for paying lip service. The remaining 364 days of the year, the world cares considerably less. Here are just a few examples:

Economic interests dictate silence on despotism 

Global Media Forum 2016 Peter Limbourg (DW/M. Müller)

DW Director General Peter Limbourg

Democratic European politicians are outdoing one another in their efforts to woo China. The fact that press freedom doesn't exist in the country and independent content by DW and other foreign broadcasters is completely blocked appears to be barely worth mentioning. When they think about China, business representatives are likely to envision mega deals rather than human rights. It is akin to surrendering to Beijing's despotism and claim to power. In China, no one will protest when foreign investors are restricted, and the Chinese media won't reflect any criticism. 

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Critical media under pressure in Russia

An astonishingly large number of German and European politicians are trying to create understanding for Russian President Vladimir Putin – including taking seriously his fears about NATO and the EU. The fears of Russian journalists on the other hand are just bothersome, despite the fact that they face such threats as intimidation, assault, and even murder. Here, at least, it's good to see Heiko Maas, Germany's new foreign minister, taking a different point of view. 

Iran has also been blocking content by DW and many other foreign broadcasters, while systematically harassing their employees. Hardly anyone ever mentions the 23 reporters holed up in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' torture prisons any more. And yet some politicians still dream of approaching a regime that wants to destroy Israel, is in the process of destabilizing the entire Mideast, and exports terror. 

When will Raif Badawi benefit from Saudi reforms?

Demo für Blogger Raif Badawi (Imago/C. Ditsch)

Amnesty International has been leading calls for the release of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi

People have been celebrating the Saudi crown prince because he allows women to drive cars and has opened movie theaters. At the same time, blogger Raif Badawi is still in a Saudi prison, simply because he practiced the basic right to freedom of opinion. 

African autocrats demand — and receive — additional development aid, but they rob young, dynamic journalists of the air to breathe, something that applies particularly to those who try to do an honest day's work for private broadcasters.

Bloggers in Bangladesh and Pakistan who write critical reports about rising Islamism in their countries are risking their lives. Despite the efforts by many a diplomat, effective support from abroad is in short supply. 

Read more: Europe turning into crisis region for journalists

Mexico is a partner country at this year's technology fair in Hanover. But in no other country in the world do reporters live so dangerously, due also to the fact that the state can't seem to get a handle on the drug cartels. Last year, 11 reporters were killed in Mexico — second only to Syria, where even more journalists died.  

Sadly, the list goes on, and it includes NATO member state Turkey, as well as EU members Poland and Hungary. Clearly, this issue requires more than lip service on anniversaries. 

What are our governments doing?

We should also measure our governments and politicians by what they do to protest increasing attacks on the freedom of the press. Do they clearly point out our values to dictators? Are they prepared to forgo deals if these values are blatantly violated? Do they link the readiness to grant development aid with the local human rights and press freedom situation? 

All over the world, dictators, autocrats and populists are threatening democracy. It can only survive if democrats argue strongly in favor of democratic values.

Today, May 3, Deutsche Welle is celebrating an anniversary. For 65 years now, we've been a free and independent broadcaster to people around the globe. We will continue to advocate for press freedom , and to report the truth when this freedom is violated. That's a promise!

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