World Press Freedom Day – our responsibilities

THE Council of Europe has called for its members to protect whistleblowers and journalists to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

The institution, which includes the European Court of Human Rights but has no legal power itself, urged its 47 nation members to meet their “obligation” to protect reporters and create “legal frameworks” to protect whistleblowers.

In a press release, the council’s executive issued a “Recommendation on the protection of whistleblowers”1 and a “Declaration on the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists and other media actors”2. Russia objected to the “other media actors” reference.

Under Tomorrow’s eighth core principle, we must “be a safe harbour for the public and staff”. This principle ensures we look out for our staff in the process of doing their jobs as much as possible, and for those members of the public who might report stories to us but fear the consequences.

As outlined in greater detail in our section on Safe Harbour, these requirements should be a prime function of any media organisation. We cannot rely on any nation state, international body, or even local group, to protect the public simply because of laws, recommendations or declarations. The public should seek out those organisations which will do their best to report news accurately and protect sources, just as a news outlet should seek to reassure potential sources that this is the standard it aims to meet.

World Press Freedom Day should remind the planet of the important job reporters do and frequent threats faced by too many to life and liberty while in the pursuit of a story.

But it should also be a reminder to that press to use the freedom they hold so high to good ends, to justify that freedom to our readers, viewers or listeners. And we must do so daily – or rather, through each report. That is how we will achieve a better appreciation for reporting, for facts, and for those who present them.

Then, when those nation states or private corporations fail to protect whistleblowers, when individuals or military forces attack reporters, we can say, “We gave them a safe harbour for the truth”.

  1. Council “Recommendation“.
  2. Council “Declaration“.

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And remember, as a news editor once said, you only get five exclamation marks in life, so use them sparingly.