Today marks the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, a UN initiative established to champion the importance of diverse, pluralistic and independent media – a cornerstone of democratic societies.
However, press freedom is in retreat across the globe. According to the 2023 World Press Freedom Index, released today and compiled by Reporters Without Borders, an unprecedented 31 countries were deemed to be in a “very serious situation”, the lowest ranking in the report, up from 21 just two years ago. Threats to journalists and media freedom continue to multiply and become ever more complex: the powerful are employing ‘lawfare’ to stifle critical press and avoid accountability; dis- and misinformation are being weaponised to sow uncertainty and distort narratives on a global scale; and the digital world has made journalists more vulnerable to targeted harassment and abuse – both online and offline. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 363 journalists were imprisoned in 2022, a new high indicative of a concerted global effort to undermine the free flow of information.
Against this backdrop, the 2023 World Press Freedom Day event - taking place at the UN headquarters in New York - provides a vital opportunity to bring together governments, press freedom organisations, media professionals and experts to discuss these alarming trends and potential solutions. The Foundation has a significant presence at the event, hosting and participating in more than nine formal and side sessions across the four days including a UNESCO plenary discussion on freedom of expression as fundamental enabler to all human rights, moderated by the Foundation’s CEO Antonio Zappulla.
This is just one way we pursue our mission to strengthen free, fair, and informed societies. For the past 40 years, the Thomson Reuters Foundation has been committed to developing the ecosystem for independent media around the world. Our legacy, expertise and vast global networks provide us with a deep understanding of existing threats to media freedom and position us at the forefront of identifying emerging trends and solutions.
This piece highlights our ongoing efforts to support press freedom and independent journalism in a rapidly changing media landscape:
Bringing together journalists and media freedom experts to amplify their voices
We bring together key actors to raise awareness of threats to media freedom, share best practice and identify opportunities to develop solutions that foster a more resilient ecosystem.
Our flagship annual event, Trust Conference, provides a platform for such conversations to take place. Last year’s event featured a keynote speech from Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dmitry Muratov, along with panel discussions on topics such as the power of blockchain technology to protect journalists’ information from malign actors.
Recent events such as the International Journalism Festival also present an opportunity to convene stakeholders around shared media freedom objectives. The Foundation’s presence at this year’s festival saw us host and participate in several panel discussions, which drew speakers such as Jodie Ginsberg, President of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Meenakshi Ravi, Executive Producer of The Listening Post at Al Jazeera, and Ronan Farrow, Investigative Reporter at The New Yorker.
Our ‘Legal threats hampering media freedom’ panel marked the launch of our new report on 'Weaponising the Law: Attacks on Media Freedom', published in collaboration with the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. By bringing together insights from leading media freedom experts and connecting the lived experiences of our global network of journalists, we were able to build a cohesive global overview of legal threats to journalists and make ten recommendations on how to support and protect journalists from this abuse. The findings will be discussed at a roundtable in New York, hosted by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.
Combining our media and legal expertise to provide journalists and independent media with critical support
As well as raising awareness of the key issues impacting the media ecosystem, the Foundation also provides practical support to those navigating these complex challenges.
Through the Foundation’s pro bono legal service, TrustLaw, we work with more than 1,000 law firms and legal teams worldwide to facilitate the creation of resources such as ‘Know Your Rights’ guides for journalists. These practical guides are designed to provide concrete legal actions that journalists can take, for example to combat abuse such as gender-based online harassment, or in specific jurisdictions like India.
In response to the unprecedented growth in legal threats to journalists around the world, we teamed up with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Media Defence to establish the Legal Network for Journalists at Risk. The network comprises 15 organisations and strategically coordinates legal support to enable journalists and independent media outlets to continue to cover public interest stories and hold power to account without fear of retribution. Assistance offered by the network ranges from urgent legal representation to ongoing help for the duration of a case, to systemic support to improve the legal environment in which the media operates. The Foundation’s Director of TrustLaw, Carolina Henriquez-Schmitz, will talk about the Legal Network in an event hosted by the CPJ today. You can watch the recording on YouTube.
Participating in collaborative media freedom initiatives to generate change
In 2022, the Thomson Reuters Foundation was selected by the UK Government to set up and host a Secretariat function to support the Media Freedom Coalition (MFC). Set up in 2019, the MFC is a partnership of more than 50 governments working together to advance media freedom and advocate for the safety of journalists. The Secretariat provides operational support, facilitates decision-making, manages communications and monitors the impact of member countries activities.
We sit on the Coalition Against Online Violence - a global collective working to find better solutions for women journalists facing online abuse, harassment and other forms of digital attack – and the Media Freedom Cohort - an international coalition of governments, private sector officials, and NGOs, which TRF is a member of, that works to track progress on media freedom commitments made at the Summit for Democracy.
Developing strong media institutions through capacity building and training
This year marks 40 years since we started training journalists around the world, equipping reporters with the skills and knowledge to produce accurate, impartial and reliable journalism. In this time, we have trained over 20,000 journalists and established a global alumni network that continues to engage with the Foundation’s work and events.
We leverage our vast experience working in this space to provide bespoke support to media organisations on all aspects of their operations, from editorial standards and operational management to business sustainability, with the aim of strengthening independent media voices in countries where free and independent media is at risk of shrinking.
Our recent work in Ukraine is an example of how we support independent media in the most challenging of circumstances. Today we are launching our ‘Voices from the Frontline’ series, dedicated to elevating the stories of Ukrainian journalists and media professionals. The first piece in the series is an interview with photojournalist Oleksandr Kornyakov, who shares his experiences of documenting events in war-torn Kherson. You can read the interview in Ukrainian.
Spotlighting the intrepid work being done to protect media freedom and keep the world informed
Since 2009, we have supported and hosted the Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism. Named in honour of American journalist Kurt Schork, who was killed in Sierra Leone while on assignment for Reuters in 2000, the three annual awards recognise courageous freelance journalists, local reporters and news fixers who are reporting on conflict, corruption, human rights transgressions and injustice. 50 reporters from across the globe – from Kenya to Syria – have received prestigious honour. Last year, the winners were invited to speak at the Foundation’s flagship event, Trust Conference, in a panel moderated by renowned international journalist, Christiane Amanpour.
We also support the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, awarded this year to three imprisoned Iranian journalists - Niloofar Hamedi, Elaheh Mohammadi and Narges Mohammadi. The winners were announced today as part of the World Press Freedom Day ceremony in New York.
To find out more about the Foundation’s work on media freedom, sign up to the newsletter where we’ll share our latest safety and legal resources for journalists and newsrooms, promote our events, and share the latest news on our work in the space.