Journalism more difficult than ever, says UN expert

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David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Photo: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Too many political leaders treat journalists as "the enemy", rather than as a valuable expression of democracy, a leading UN human rights expert has said.

David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, made the comments for World Press Freedom Day, which is celebrated on 3 May every year.

In addition to calling for the criminalization of fake news, Mr Kaye said governments should refrain from disabling websites that are critical of their policies.

Daniel Johnson has more.

In a statement for World Press Freedom Day, independent UN expert David Kaye condemned governments who – as he put it – "work incessantly to undermine" the practice of journalism.

Describing state harassment of the media as a global crisis, Mr Kaye said that authorities should "resist the temptation" to take down content or block people's access to information online.

"Fake news" reporting should also be criminalized, according to the Special Rapporteur, who added that "too many leaders see journalism as the enemy, reporters as rogue actors", those who tweet as "terrorists, and bloggers as blasphemers".

Modern media publishers are far from perfect, Mr Kaye continued – a reference to the shock tactics some use to attract attention to their news websites.

But the bigger problem is that independent journalists are being crowded out by state-dominated media and a dwindling number of news outlets, he explained.

And in this digital world of fake news and disinformation, Mr Kaye insisted that their work as a "public watchdog" of authority is more important than ever.

In the real world, journalists also face "physical abuse and murder" and too often these attacks go unpunished, Mr Kaye said.

And in his call to governments to "protect and promote independent journalism", the rights expert said they should also release of hundreds of reporters held in detention around the world, and repeal laws that treat criticism of authority as treachery.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva

Duration: 1’25″

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