Story aired originally on KLCC 89.7 FM.
In early May three University of Oregon journalism professors and six students, including KLCC’s Franziska Monahan, traveled to the other side of the world. They covered UNESCO’s annual World Press Freedom Day conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, for the UO-UNESCO Crossings Institute.
On World Press Freedom Day, May 3rd, celebrations are held all over the world as a reminder of the crucial role freedom of expression plays in upholding just and inclusive societies.
The theme of this year’s conference was “Critical Minds for Critical Times.” It paid special attention to issues such as the harassment and safety of journalists; the evolving roles of social technology in journalism; the rise of populism internationally and especially; the proliferation of fake or “hoax” news throughout the global media landscape. During the week, journalists and other media professionals from around the globe worked together to theorize solutions for these challenges.
World Press Freedom Day is also an occasion to recognize the dangers many journalists face in the name of freedom of expression. Each year, a jury of prominent international media professionals honors a journalist who has made outstanding sacrifices in the defense of press freedom with the Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize. This year’s award was given to Dawit Isaak, an Eritrean-born Swedish journalist who was arrested while working in Eritrea in 2001. His current whereabouts are unknown. Isaak’s daughter, Betlehem Isaak, accepted the award in his place.
“He knew that without the basic establishment of human rights, freedom of speech, access to education and health care, no society could flourish, no nation can achieve stability and no people could prosper,” Isaak said of her father. “He wanted to give his people an environment where they could speak freely in mutual understanding and respect. And by peaceful means give people the right to determine their own destiny.”
The last two Guillermo Cano laureates were released from prison within months of receiving the prize.
The President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo gave an address at the prize ceremony. He opened his speech with these words:
“Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. And welcome to Indonesia. Home of the most free and most high-energy journalism in the world.”
For some members of the audience, this declaration came as a surprise. According to the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, Indonesia is ranked only at 124 out of 180 countries for press freedom. In fact, the night before the ceremony, a journalist by the name of Yance Wenda was arrested and beaten for photographing a political protest on the Indonesian island of West Papua. According to Reporters without Borders, or RSF, violence and harassment against local journalists has been particularly bad in Papua. Foreign journalists working on the island require clearance from 12 different ministries within the Indonesian government and are liable to be arrested and prosecuted if they try to cover the Indonesian military’s abuses there.
Indonesia has made some progress, bolstering its press freedom rank 6 points in the last year. The United States’ press freedom has dropped since 2016, from 41 to 43. RSF attributes the United States’ relatively low ranking to several challenges imposed on the American press in recent years, such as President Trump’s labeling of the media as “an enemy of the American people” and the Obama administration’s crackdown on whistle blowers and leakers. The United States also lacks a federal shield law which would ensure journalists’ rights to protect anonymous sources.