World Association of News Publishers

Media Freedom Committee Meets in Helsinki to Discuss Regional Challenges

Media Freedom Committee Meets in Helsinki to Discuss Regional Challenges

Article ID:


WAN-IFRA partners from four regions came together in Helsinki, Finland from May 2-4 for the inaugural Media Freedom Committee meeting as well as to celebrate World Press Freedom Day in conjunction with UNESCO’s global conference. There, participants shared experiences and discussed the challenges facing journalists in their respective countries.

By Colette Davidson

Unusually sunny skies welcomed the 15 members of WAN-IFRA’s Media Freedom Committee to Helsinki in the first week of May. Their mission? To address the major internal and external challenges facing media in each region, and come up with a plan to tackle them.

It was a lofty mission in the span of just three days, but participants were aided by the two-day World Press Freedom Day conference they attended, organized by UNESCO and in partnership with WAN-IFRA. Parallel panel discussions on topics such as censorship and surveillance, ensuring journalist safety and gender equality in the news led to the adoption of the Finlandia declaration on press freedom, access to information and cultural diversity.

But then it was time to get down to business. WAN-IFRA’s regional leaders brought their teams together for discussions on the challenges facing media and how they planned to move those discussions forward to find solutions.

In Africa – where participants hailed from Uganda, South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe – much of the internal challenges come in the form of self-censorship. In Uganda, says Carol Beyanga, the government and police are in contact with editors, informing them on their editorial decisions. And across the region, advertisers have been known to exert pressure about media content.

“You’re relying on advertising so it influences what types of articles are ultimately published,” says Karabo Rajuili from South Africa.

Externally, laws that limit media freedom are having a negative effect on the media landscape, while state security and terrorism issues continue to make media more vulnerable. Weak ethical standards speak to the need for training and advocacy initiatives, say regional leaders, while they also hope to work more closely with human rights groups to strengthen advocacy and media freedom, and infuse greater solidarity within the industry.

In the MENA region – with representatives from Egypt, Palestine and Syria – safety of journalists is the number one external challenge, as media professionals often face harassment, imprisonment and death. Self-censorship is also an issue, says Ghias Aljundi, where journalists are afraid for their jobs - and of society. “We live in a conservative society so some topics are sensitive to cover,” he says.

In addition, the lack of real independent media makes for significant challenges, where advertisers exert pressure and influence content, and journalists are controlled by the need to work. “In Egypt, many younger journalists have no contract – only a verbal agreement,” says Rana Sallam. “This affects your ability to join a journalist union and have protection.”

MENA regional leaders hope to create a platform for journalists to support each other as well as a large-scale awareness-raising campaign. Training police officers on journalists’ rights as well as offering support for journalists’ safety would also ensure that people could cover issues independently.

When it comes to the Latin America region – where committee members came from Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia – economic interests often intertwine with government leadership to exert control over media publications. “Economic actors control the main newspapers,” says Javier Garza. “They own them and other businesses that have interests with the government, so publications must follow the official line.”

Violence, intimidation, hacking and eavesdropping also continue to plague journalists in Latin America. In Mexico, a crime against journalists might appear as if it came from a criminal group so the original perpetrator is never known, while in Ecuador, journalists are often intimidated but fall short of being killed or imprisoned. “The government makes itself look like it’s following the rules but actually they’re controlling everything,” says Mónica Almeida.

The Latin America region says it hopes it can work to create strategies to make the inaction of governments more visible and to hold them responsible when necessary. In addition, it hopes to offer more protections to journalists reporting in rural areas.

Finally, leaders in the Southeast Asia region are looking to tackle a number of structural challenges to press freedom, where Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines remain persistently low in the Reports Without Borders World Press Freedom Rankings. In Indonesia, there is a crisis of impunity for the deaths of journalists, which has meant that there is little or no information on the details of the 10 journalists killed there in the last decade.

In the Philippines, journalists regularly carry their own guns on assignment for protection against gangs and militia groups, and in Malaysia, the media is under serious threat due to governmental pressures that influence content. “You have to be licensed to print and that license can be revoked at any time,” says Aidila Razak.

The Southeast Asia region is looking to establish a reputable regional press council to regulate media issues and try to create a sense of solidarity amongst journalists.

By the end of the meeting, the WAN-IFRA Media Freedom Committee had made several country and regional goals, which they will set about trying to accomplish over the coming months. Following the numerous brainstorming sessions and discussions about press freedom, the committee hopes to improve communication between all actors, create a sense of solidarity within the media, strengthen safety and reduce self-censorship.

WAN-IFRA’s Strengthening Media and Society programme is a two-year initiative supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark. The Media Freedom Committee is a strategic element in the delivery of this programme, guiding and informing WAN-IFRA’s advocacy work in each country of intervention. More details can be found at


Hedvig Lundstrom's picture

Hedvig Lundstrom


2016-05-19 16:08

Contact information

In countless countries, journalists, editors and publishers are physically attacked, imprisoned, censored, suspended or harassed for their work. WAN-IFRA is committed to defending freedom of expression by promoting a free and independent press around the world. Read more ...