Some Reflections on World Press Freedom Day

World Press Freedom Day on May 3 brought pretty little to celebrate with it. Violence and warfare in Muslim countries or perpetrated by Islamist terrorists elsewhere claimed a sizable proportion of the 75 lives of journalists in the line of duty last year. At least 14 reporters died in Syria, the most lethal country in 2015 for press workers, and nine in France, the second deadliest, due to the attacks by Muslim terrorists. Organized crime in Mexico was another big source of violence against reporters, as was the perennial intolerance of China’s Communist regime, which seeks to stifle vestiges of freedom in Hong Kong. This dismal state of affairs was worsened by the thin-skinned leaders of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The prickliest of the two, Erdogan, even sued for lèse-majesté a journalist who compared him to a fictional character: Gollum, from The Lord of the Rings. The tension between journalists and states or power groups has been a feature of history ever since writers, well before the invention of media as we know it, took to their pens to question governments, the most famous examples in the classical world being Gnæus Nævius, who was exiled to North Africa after offending the Metelli family in the 3rd century BC, and Ovid, banished to Tomis (modern Constanta, in Romania) in the 1st century, for irking emperor Augustus. Power and freedom of expression still have a poor relationship.

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