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A film echoing the need to fight for freedom and rights is screened to mark a special day

To mark World Press Freedom Day 2024, the US Consulate General Chennai and the Press Institute of India (PII) organised on May 8 an exclusive screening of the documentary, Fannie Lou Hamer’s America,followed by a discussion at the PII conference hall. More than 30 journalists as well as a few members of their families attended.

Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer rose from humble beginnings in the Mississippi Delta to become one of the most important, passionate, and powerful voices of the civil and voting rights movements and a leader in the efforts for greater economic opportunities for African Americans. She fought for liberty, voting rights, equality, etc, and became a larger-than-life symbol of freedom of expression and a seeker of one’s rights.

After Sashi Nair, Director, PII, welcomed the gathering and set the tone for the film screening, US diplomat Samantha Jackson, Spokesperson and Press Officer, Public Diplomacy Section, US Consulate General Chennai, spoke about the relevance of the film in today’s times and about the Consulate’s campaigns being conducted to mark World Press Freedom Day 2024. There were a few questions from the audience after the film ended, which Jackson fielded. 

In the earlier segment, Sujatha Srinivasan, Public Engagement Specialist (Press and Media), Public Diplomacy Section, US Consulate General Chennai, started proceedings with a brief introduction to US-supported youth exchange programmes. Three presentations followed – by Chitra Jaishankar, alumni and Youth Exchanges Coordinator, on US Department of State-sponsored educational, cultural and professional exchanges; by Maya Sundararajan, Regional Officer, USIEF (United States-India Educational Foundation), on Fulbright Fellowship opportunities for Indian citizens; and by Seema Massot, American Center Director, on the American Center and its activities. 

Also present was M. Bhaskar Sai, Press and Media Coordinator, US Consulate General Chennai.  Here are some pictures taken at the event.

Samantha Jackson speaks about the World Press Freedom Day campaign being conducted by the US Consulate General Chennai and explains
the relevance of the film in today’s times.
Fannie Lou Hamer’s America being screened.
A journalist has a question.
Veteran journalist Murari has something to share. Listening closely are NDTV’s Sam Daniel and freelance editor S.R. Madhu (right).
Samantha Jackson responds to the questions.
Sujatha Srinivasan commences the day’s proceedings with a brief introduction to US-supported youth exchange programmes.
A view of the audience during the earlier part of the programme.
Chitra Jaishankar dwells on US Department of State-sponsored educational, cultural and professional exchanges.
Maya Sundararajan speaks about Fulbright Fellowship opportunities for Indian citizens.
Seema Massot describes the activities at the American Center.
One for the record: Samantha Jackson poses for a picture with young journalists from television channels and senior journalist Babu Jayakumar (extreme left).

Background
The Windhoek Declaration for the Development of a Free, Independent and Pluralistic Press, was a statement of press freedom principles by African newspaper journalists in 1991. The Declaration was produced at a UNESCO seminar in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. The date of the Declaration’s adoption, May 3, has subsequently been declared as World Press Freedom Day. 

On World Press Freedom Day this year, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) unveiled its annual World Index. The World Press Freedom Index is an annual assessment from RWB about the state of press freedom in 180 countries and territories. This year, one statement prevails: press freedom is being threatened by the very people who should be its guarantors- governments and political actors. Of the five indicators used to compile the rankings, it is the political indicator that saw the steepest decline. As more than half of the world’s population will vote in 2024, RSF is drawing attention to the fact that political parties of all tendencies are increasingly neglecting their role as guarantors of press freedom.  

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) South Asia Press Freedom Report for 2023-2024, Artificial Independence: The Fight to Save Media and Democracy, highlights struggles for the future of media amidst state crackdowns, political polarisation, challenges to democratic rights, lack of media sustainability, and economic turmoil. IFJ recorded a total of 232 media rights violations in the period, including the targeted killings of 8 journalists and media workers.
 
Wage threats, job losses, shuttering of media houses, and precarious working conditions all posed serious questions for ongoing media viability, as many countries still battled severe economic crises following the COVID-19 pandemic. With the growing use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools in newsrooms and on social media in the region, journalists also faced unprecedented challenges to the very practice of their craft as misinformation and disinformation continued to take hold. Despite these challenges, trust in the media is not completely lost, with dynamic and dedicated digital outlets, fact-checking collectives, and social media initiatives offering a view of an independent media future in an era of increasing corporate control.

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