Nuku’alofa, Tonga – The winning essay at the Tertiary level of the “Journalism Without Fear or Favor” contest was awarded to Gregory Kulitapa of Tonga Institute of Higher Education.
The theme raises awareness and celebrates truth and integrity in journalism, without fear or favor. Kulitapa captures the essence brilliantly below.
“Thus, this year’s slogan of “journalism without fear and favor’’, calls for a timely celebration of those who stand up for freedom of information and for an independent press which examines and states the facts and truth.”
Journalism is not only an important profession but it is also a skill and talent that seeks understanding for the public regarding any issue, by getting closer to the heart of the world. Journalists have the passion to tell the truth, to inform, to reach others and to communicate news using any means necessary. This line of work does not have a clearly paved road, for many potholes, bumps, mountains and puddles need to be overcome. Hence, a World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the United Nation General Assembly in December 1993, and since then, the 3rd of May, the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek is celebrated worldwide as the World Press Freedom day. This commemoration aims to raise awareness on the importance of journalism and to appreciate journalists who risked their lives in carrying out their duties. Thus, this year’s slogan of “journalism without fear and favor’’, calls for a timely celebration of those who stand up for freedom of information and for an independent press which examines and states the facts and truth. Therefore, this essay discusses the importance of celebrating journalism without fear and favor in terms of safety of women and men journalists and media workers, independent and professional journalism free from political and commercial influence, and gender equality in all aspect of the media.
Initially, journalism without fear and favor seeks for the safety of women and men journalists and media workers. Regardless of its importance, journalism is a profession that is being fiercely attacked, challenged and perceived as controversial in so many levels. Recently, there is growing evidence and awareness on the various interference with the freedom of the press and media. Whether it is political, ideological or economic interference, they all result in defamatory attacks intending to discredit, harass and silence journalists. The reason is because journalists and media workers expose issues of public interest, such as government policies and have a vital role in democracies by providing objective information to the public. Since journalists publically investigate, document and report sensitive issues such as human rights violations and abuses, corruption, organized crime, drug trafficking, public cries or protests, the opposing party take actions to silence journalists from their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and imparting such information. The violence and intimidation encountered by journalists range from murder to kidnapping, physical and sexual assault, arrests and convictions on trumped-up criminal charges, vandalism and arson, cyber-bulling, arbitrary police raids on media offices and many more. These acts of violence led to the increasing number of journalists killed within their work line, with the figure of 530 journalists killed from 2012 to 2016, which is an average of two deaths per week. There is also a continuing trend of impunity for crimes against journalists, with over 90% of cases of killings of journalist remained unresolved. Hence, intimidation and violence against journalists and media workers deprive people of their fundamental right to seek, receive and impart information.
Moreover, journalism without fear or favor seeks independent and professional journalism that is free from political and commercial influence. Even though most governments officially subscribe to the concept of freedom of the media, sadly, reality shows a different picture. The media and their representatives often easily fall as preys to outside interferences and open repression. Economic barriers, political and commercial interferences always hinders the freedom of expression of journalists. These obstacles are employed by leaders through creative measures intending to reduce press freedom and stifling a free press. Misunderstandings on the definition of professional diplomatic journalism is due to the confusion of media development assistance with public-democracy media programs. Both have different objectives, in which public diplomacy seeks to promote a country’s foreign policies and interests by informing and influencing the audience. This complements traditional diplomacy because it primarily focus on non-governmental actors.
This increases concentration, creating new problems for media pluralism and diversity. This fact has been proven during the COVID-19 pandemic, in which people’s lives depend on truthful information from the media.
Nevertheless, a growing amount of lies and untruthful information has been released via electronic platforms, which showcased the influences of propaganda purposes. This also becomes a major threat to independent journalism, as governments take advantage of lockdowns to impose media restrictions as many outlets face financial collapse. However, it is important for journalists to remember that a free and independent press is never accommodating. Professional journalism is not an accomplice of those with power, and neither is it their hangman. This profession should not be guided by personal ideological beliefs or political affiliation, but rather, a free press is the key to a democratic society. Journalists ought to be critical observers and diligent reporters, in which they seek out and circulate news and information, holding those in authority to account. It provides a platform for a multiplicity of voices to be heard, since at all levels, it is the public’s watchdog, activist, guardian and contemporary chronicler.
Furthermore, journalism without fear or favor also pushes for gender equality in all aspects of media. Gender inequality in journalism is no secret, for it is one of the greatest challenges men especially women journalists face. It is difficult to resist the culture of causal stereotype, and it does not help when media platforms are overload with cliché images that portray women as objects of male attention and fantasy. These images are fixed in every region, which deeply entrenched prejudices and biased reflexes that challenged journalists and media. Despite whatever progress made for gender equality, the journalism and media field is becoming more employed with women journalists. However, they may be strongly represented in newsroom, but media are still dominated by male figures when top positions are examined. Statistics show that regardless of the increasing female population training and entering journalism, the number of women producers, executives, publishers and chief editors remains low in comparison with men journalists. Meanwhile, the distribution of tasks shows that only 32% of hard news are covered by female journalists, for they are often found to report soft subjects. This showcased that women journalists are being downgraded and marginalized in the news, both in their jobs and in the opportunities they have in making their way into the profession.
However, it is important that women should be at the same level as men journalists. Gender equality does not mean for them to become the same in literal meanings, but their rights, responsibilities and opportunities should not be of whether they are born as a male or female. It should be based on their individual abilities and passion, in which women journalists has an equal high chance as any other male journalists. Fair gender portrayal is a professional an ethical aspiration that should be similar to respect for accuracy, fairness and honesty. This equality will not just benefit women, but everyone will benefit from eliminating discrimination and stereotyping.
Therefore, with the issues regarding the advocate for journalism to be without fear and favor, huge measures need to be taken into action. The freedom of the press can be supported through strategies of empowering public awareness and support. Having the general public support journalism is the most important backbone for a thriving media that has freedom to impart information. Every country including Tonga should see the importance of media, and by celebrating the world freedom of press day, the people and government are being reminded of the need to respect press and media freedom. The late King of Tonga, His Majesty King George Tupou I led the support for press freedom by protecting it within the constitution of 1875, stating that “… it shall be lawful for all people to speak, write and print their minds and opinions and no law shall be enacted to forbid this forever…”. This great support should be continued on by the public, supporting their chance for human rights, giving them sense of protection and security against discredit, harassment and attacks form outside forces.
Additionally, journalists need to be equipped with the knowledge that their role is preventing violence. The true essence of journalism is its contribution to peace, focusing on humanizing victims of a conflict and seeking to uncover the complexities behind violent situations. Through this, journalists will not be influenced by commercials and politics, for they seek not to exploit suffering and loss, but instead they seek to convey a balanced account if information and to reveal the non-manipulated truth to the public.
Moreover, in order to promote gender equality in journalism roles and responsibilities, educational and training programs should be encouraged in schools and institutions. It is also important to encourage women to participate in election processes, both as voters and as candidates. This will help government identify the weakness areas in why women do not get elected and response effectively to the problem through actions and policies that involve women in governing bodies. Through this, it is guaranteed that freedom of press will be highly regarded as without fear and favor.
Having discussed and analyzed the theme “journalism without fear or favor”, it is concluded that freedom of press is highly important and crucial in portraying public democracy. The media and journalism are the watchdogs of the public, seeking and uncovering truths for the public to be aware off. However, there is growing evidence that the freedom of the press is an ethical dilemma nowadays. There are still outside interferences on the freedom of press, which not only influence the validity and diversity of the information portrayed to the public, but it also pose a huge risk on the well beings and lives of journalists worldwide. It not only results in their deaths, but it also increases the inequality in distribution of roles and responsibilities regarding gender within the profession.
Therefore, empowering public awareness and support is much needed. Equipping journalists with the knowledge of promoting peace and advocating for increasing educational programmes and empowering women to be included in elections can help reduce the gap in journalism and achieve a profession that is without fear or favor.