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On World Press Freedom Day, media renew historic drive to embed rights and protections

‘Disruptive in its time’, the historic Santiago Declaration, adopted 30 years ago on World Press Freedom Day in the Chilean capital, is now updated. Martha Ramos, president of WAN-IFRA’s World Editors Forum, outlines the journey to ‘Santiago +30’. This article is by Lucinda Jordaan

The Santiago Declaration, adopted in 1994, on World Press Freedom Day in Santiago, Chile, was “disruptive in its time,” recalls Martha Ramos, president of WAN-IFRA’s World Editors Forum board and chief editorial officer of the Organización Editorial Mexicana. “UNESCO has uniformly done these declarations on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, but that declaration was very important for Latin America. It stands for recognising the press as a valuable asset for democracy, and calls on governments to stop the killings of, and step up protections for, journalists.” 

More significantly, adds Ramos: “It also included a distinctive article (Article Seven): that journalists cannot be forced to disclose their sources.” Much has changed since then, globally – and so rapidly in recent years, alone – that we are still grappling with the fallout of tech disruption and the digital revolution, even as we face fresh threats with the explosion of AI.

“We adopted new technology so readily, and these new tech platforms are now our standard forms of communication, yet we are still struggling with risks that come with it – misinformation is huge, very dangerous – and we didn’t have this 30 years ago; it’s going too fast, and we have to address it.” Ramos points to a range of articles and discussions on the crises facing the global media landscape during the past few years that was the impetus for drafting ‘Santiago +30’.

“Journalists and news organisations around the world have been questioning this, at conferences, in webinars: where are we going; what are we doing to do; how do we deal with Google, with social media platforms; how do people consume news. And: what is our responsibility? It is sad that we still have to demand protection and respect for our work, that we still have persecutions, still have journalists killed, journalists in exile…”

“Now, we in the media are facing attacks from other actors as well. We’re losing readers, we need the confidence of society again… how can we address that, and come up with something that is reflective of our reality? We live with tech; how can we work together in transparency?”  

Synchronous significances and startling differences
The synchronicity in this occasion, that World Press Freedom Day is once again held in Santiago, exactly 30 years later, is not lost on Ramos. “What’s new, and rare, is that we are all in this together; it is not only another time, but it also offers us another way to do things. The challenges are global now, and what’s interesting is that we are trying to say/ acknowledging that this is all our responsibility: journalists, institutions, governments, media companies, watchdogs, big tech and civil society,” she says.

Also distinctive, is that the original declaration was drafted with collaboration between governments and the media industry. Now, says Ramos: “We’re not only talking to governments; we are wanting to work together with all actors and stakeholders to endorse these updates, and we are talking to civil society as well. What’s different now is that we are united: international organisations like WAN-IFRA and Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa (the Inter American Press Association) and the national associations of Argentina, Brasil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, España, México, Perú and Portugal, have all come together as a group, and worked on this for months.” 

Guidelines for all
The draft Declaration lays out guidelines for governments, media, technology companies, and intergovernmental organisations. According to Ramos, each sector has urgent issues to address. “From governments, we seek a guarantee of our work – that it addresses the work of journalists as an important and necessary component of democracy. From journalists, we seek to reinforce ethics. From news media, we aim for structure, keeping up our ethics and the compromise we have with society. ‘From tech leaders we seek transparency and collaboration; we need to figure out how to work together, and come to an understanding of the value in the wealth of information that we produce every day.’

Threats, challenges – and opportunities
The original Plan of Action addressed five areas of key concern: the promotion of community media in rural, indigenous and marginal urban areas; training; free press and the safety of journalists; equipment and technology, and research. An interesting new addition, too, is the call for promotion of media literacy, digital literacy, and critical thinking skills “so that citizens can effectively navigate the digital landscape and distinguish reliable information from disinformation.” For newsrooms, one of the most promising inclusions is the widespread call for funding and financing the economic sustainability of journalists and news media.

Ramos points to a range of articles and discussions on the crises facing the global media landscape during the past few years that was the impetus for
drafting ‘Santiago +30’.

“The entire media industry is facing an economic crisis – the size of it depends on the country or brand – but there is no money, and governments simply have to be involved,” reasons Ramos. She points to the announcement, just last week, from the State of New York, which became the first in the United States to comply with the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, by ring-fencing a portion of the state budget to support local media outlets. “This is the result of an appeal to save local journalism; a law was established state for local journalists to survive, and this is what we all need now; money has to go to present jobs, towards hiring more journalists, and preserving jobs. We have to endorse that.”

A Press for the Planet is this year’s theme for World Press Freedom Day, to highlight the threats posed both to our planet, and the environmental journalists who face increasing suppression. For Ramos, the annual day to highlight press freedoms is “a reminder of why I’m here; why it’s ok to be fighting every day for the budget to do our job; to keep encouraging the journalists who work with me, who are threatened. On this day, in particular, it is an important reminder… Right now, most LatAm countries have complicated relationships with leaders, who view journalists as a big threat – yet the big threat is the problems of the country, not us!”

Signatories to the Santiago +30 Declaration

  • World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)
  • Inter American Press Association (IAPA)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • Associação Nacional de Jornais (ANJ-Brasil)
  • Asociación de Entidades Periodísticas Argentinas (Adepa)
  • Asociación Nacional de la Prensa (ANP-Chile)
  • Asociación Colombiana de Medios de Información (AMI)
  • Asociación de Medios de Información (AMI-España)
  • Associação Portuguesa de Imprensa (APImprensa)
  • Alianza de Medios Mx (México)
  • Consejo de la Prensa Peruana (CPP)
  • Asociación Ecuatoriana de Editores de Periódicos (Aedep)

(By special arrangement with WAN-IFRAThe writer is an independent media consultant with extensive experience in all media sectors and on all publishing platforms, from print and digital to film and broadcast. She now freelances as a writer, editor, consultant and coach: providing full-suite media and communications services to media enterprises and agencies. She regularly writes for the WAN-IFRA World Editors Forum.)