An attack on freedom of the press is an attack on democracy. In their re:publica keynote, journalists and activists told us about their struggle for the right to report – they addressed the crowd as representatives for those colleagues who are in prison or whose publishing companies have been closed.
Can Dündar knows what it means when a country’s press is no longer free. The former editor-in-chief at the Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, was charged with espionage and arrested in 2015, because he had been reporting on the weapons trade between Turkey and Syria. He now lives in exile in Germany and speaks for all those journalists who cannot speak for themselves. At the moment, eleven of his colleagues from the Cumhuriyet editorial staff have been sitting in prison for 190 days – without ever having seen a judge. Dündar made a call for solidarity: “Whether in prison or exile, we are fighting against oppression and we want you to fight with us.”
Egyptian Ramy Raoof’s talk touched on why the government acts in such a paranoid way – because they are afraid that knowledge will push forward change. This inherent distrust had Ramy placed under surveillance in his home country, especially during the Tahrir Square demonstrations in Cairo. The government’s strongest weapon is the presentation of alternative facts and narratives. A free press is necessary to uncover this approach.
Threats to the freedom of the press – Not a European problem?
It has now been seven months since the Hungarian newspaper Népszabadság was shut-down by the government – a clear case of an abuse of power, said Márton Gergely, the then acting deputy editor-in-chief. He places some of them blame for this development on himself and his colleagues. “Hungarian media was simply inactive for far too long and did not fight back”, stated Gergely.
Katarzyna Szymielewicz from the Panoptykon Foundation has been worried ever since the PiS Party (“Law and Justice”) came to power in Poland. The media there is increasingly under pressure to fall in line with the party values. Her work is focused on acting against state surveillance, for data protection, as well as the preservation of Polish citizen’s privacy. But that is becoming increasingly difficult. “We don’t even know if makes sense to protest in front of the parliament, because the most important decisions aren’t being made there anymore” Szymielewicz said. “We can still go to the media, but even they aren’t free. Whatever we say there gets used against us.“
Without freedom of the press, speaking becomes a political act. Four brave people, who came under attack for talking about what they saw, reported on a concrete threat and all of them directed the same appeal to their listeners: “Defend yourselves! Collect information and make it accessible to everyone – because freedom of the press is a right that is worth fighting for.”