World Press Freedom Day

Canada’s press may still enjoy “free” status, but we’re not top in the world.

Actually, according to the annual Freedom House study, we’re number 26 — tied with Barbados, the Czech Republic and the UK. We’re behind the U.S, but also Portugal, Germany, and Finland, which ranked first.

On the national scale, of course, members of the Canadian media face very few constraints. After all, there are 127 countries considered either partly free or not at all free. However, this doesn’t mean we should feel complacent

Especially so, considering the country just underwent a federal election, say Stuart Soroka, Patrick Fournier, Fred Cutler and Dietlind Stole in a joint article in today’s Globe and Mail. All four are involved with McGill’s Canadian Election Study.

They write:

“Where politics is concerned, press freedom is not really different from freedom of information and transparency more generally. Since most of us learn about politics from the news, being concerned about journalists’ access to information is not really different from being concerned about our own access to information. And Canadians’ concerns about transparency, openness and accountability — while not directed at the media necessarily — have clearly been on the rise.”

How clearly? Well, the Election Study has been tracking this information for years:

“Consider the following results tracking coverage of ‘accountability,’ ‘openness’ and ‘transparency’ in election campaign coverage by major English-language Canadian dailies. In 1993, there were 1.9 of these three keywords for every 100 articles. The issue played a rather small role in that election. In 1997, however, coverage increased: 2.7 of these three words were mentioned for every 100 articles. In the 2011 campaign, 6.7 of these access-to-information keywords were mentioned for every 100 articles. That’s surprisingly high compared with the 1990s.”

What’s more, they add, the three keywords don’t necessarily tell the whole story. We must factor in Stephen Harper’s question limit, and the unavailability of certain candidates.

The authors conclude:

“Openness and transparency in politics – essentially, access to information – is one important component of press freedom. Voters, journalists and politicians learn about politics from the mass media; but they’re also increasingly concerned about freedom of information. In the coming months, Canadian governments may do well to take to heart some of the themes of World Press Freedom Day.”

Hungry for more coverage discussing press freedom?

The Globe also published an article by Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada, and Marian Botsford Fraser, chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN. The article, dubbed “Pressing ahead on journalist freedom”, takes stock of the issue worldwide.

Rachel Pulfer, Journalists for Human Rights director of international programs, penned an interesting article on how Canadians can promote press freedom abroad. It’s also in the Globe.

If you’re starving for even more coverage, also visit the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers website. There are numerous free-to-read (and publish) articles on press freedom.

Our sister site, ProjectJ, has published articles from WAN-IFRA on its website, in French. Most notably, an interview with Rocío Gallegos, a reporter with El Diario in Ciudad Juárez in Mexico, who talks about the rise in violence against journalists in his region, and a column by Najam Sethi, editor of Friday Times and Daily Times in Pakistan, on the problems and perspectives of new media in Pakistan and the world.

You may also want to check out several events related to press freedom. The Canadian Journalists for Free Expression is holding a discussion on May 10 in Toronto on the state of access to information in Canada. Speakers include: Dean Beeby, John Reid, and Paula Todd. The CJFE will also release its second annual “Review of Free Expression in Canada” report.

Also don’t miss the travelling exhibit of editorial cartoons, “Freedom of Expression in Broad Strokes“, launched by Canadian Commission for UNESCO and the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom. The display opens today in Ottawa, and will travel across the country.

What did we miss? Please let us know in the comments section.