Eric Newton: Where is press freedom headed?

technology / Article

Which way is press freedom headed globally?

Eric Newton

Knight Foundation’s Eric Newton asked the question today at the official celebration of World Press Freedom Day, the first time the event has been presented in the United States.

“Looking at the past, you’d have to say it would be forward -- and backward,” Newton, the foundation’s senior adviser to the president, told a panel at the celebration in D.C., sponsored by Knight.

We see violence and instability driving our traditional press freedom indicators downward, and digital revolution and popular uprisings pushing our hopes upward. If we can’t tell where freedom really stands, how can we help it grow?

Freedom House reported today that press freedom worldwide declined to its lowest level in over a decade. Only one is six people live in a country with a free press, the report said. Trends for 2011 are unclear.

Newton also called on the U.S. to increase aid for international media development programs.

This wholesale reinvention of communications should cause western governments, the largest providers of media development aid, to increase support exponentially. Like the century of peace, that’s not happening, either.

Media development money is a pimple on the nose of global aid. Globally, estimates put it at $500 million a year -- the price of four F22 Raptors. This makes no sense. Media development aid creates the independent journalism that tells you whether all the other aid is being stolen. Just as freedom of expression supports all other freedom, media aid supports all other aid.

To help, Knight Foundation, which since 1950 has promoted freedom of expression worldwide, today announced it will support an international effort to get bloggers and online journalists legal help, through the Media Legal Defense Initiative. The effort will pay for legal representation, offer advice and legal resources to lawyers and take on some important legal test cases involving digital media.

Read Newton's full speech.

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