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Journalistic freedoms support both government and business
A free and independent press encourages the investor confidence that supports a strong business sector.
May 18, 2010 4:10 by Katherine Azmeh
Earlier this month, journalists around the world celebrated World Press Freedom day – an occasion to “commemorate the fundamental principles of press freedom and to pay solemn tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty,” according to UNESCO. This year, the event highlighted the importance of freedom of information as an integral component of a free press and vital to the principles of democratic governance.
In Beirut, journalists and political and media figures, along with the Lebanese Press Federation and the Lebanese Journalists Union, commemorated the events of May 6, 1916, when Lebanese and Syrian journalists were hanged by the Ottoman authorities for opposing the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Lebanon’s UCIP, a press union, warned of the fragile state of press freedom in Lebanon, urging that “any censorship is dangerous … Media outlets should have a moral code, and this is an urgent requirement in Lebanon.”
Reporters Without Borders last year ranked Lebanon, which is widely regarded as supportive of a free and progressive press, 61st out of 175 countries in terms of press freedoms. The only country in the region to rank higher was Kuwait, ranking 60th. Journalistic freedom in Lebanon, however fragile, represents one of the best-case scenarios in the region, currently.
Last year, Human Rights Watch criticized the UAE over its record on press freedom. And journalists across the region report a strong impulse to self-censor. A majority of journalists in Jordan last year said that domestic press freedoms had declined, despite comments by King Abdullah that “stressed the need for taking all measures to ensure freedom of expression and provide a wider space for a free, independent and professional media to exercise its role as a main pillar in the process of national development.”
In the Jordanian poll, 22 percent believed that press freedoms had encountered setbacks in the last year. Nearly all (94 percent) said they avoid writing or broadcasting issues related to the armed forces, while more than three quarters admit to avoiding topics related to judiciary authorities, security agencies or religious issues, and criticisms of tribal leaders or religious figures.
The BBC reported Tuesday the resignation of Saudi editor Jamal Khashoggi from al-Watan newspaper following the publication of a controversial opinion piece.
Press freedom throughout the region is a matter of urgent concern – as much for its ethical and political potentials as for its potential to support a flourishing business sector. A citizenry that is well-informed by a free and independent press is prepared to engage in public debate and decision-making efforts of public policy. Both draw on the collective wisdom, experience, and ingenuity of an intelligent, informed populace, to advance and support the nation.
Additionally, government and other public actors are more easily held accountable by an active and free press. Unscrupulous and illegal acts that defy the public interest are harder to conceal in the presence of an invigorated press. Secretiveness, corrupt practices and wrongdoing are discouraged by the perception of a “watchdog” press. And better information flows can enhance government efficiency and responsiveness and build trust.
And here is where business comes in. Trust supports investor confidence in the business sector and in the institutions that regulate and oversee them, encouraging participation in the economy by instilling trust that transparency is ensured, oversight is reliable, and recourse is consistent.
“Freedom of information is often associated with well-functioning markets and improvements in investment climates, suggests UNESCO. “It has been increasingly acknowledged as a key to democracy and socio-economic development.”
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