Celebrating World Press Freedom Day Amidst Growing Digital Hates
By Adamu S Ladan
Today is World Press Freedom Day 2023.
The UNESCO has sets 3rd of May each year to mark World press Freedom day.
UNESCO has Tuesdays organized a special anniversary event at UN headquarters in New York, marking 30 years since the UN General Assembly’s decision proclaiming an international day for press freedom.
In 1993, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 3 May as World Press Freedom Day. This proclamation marked the beginning of substantial progress towards enabling a free press and freedom of expression around the world –with the proliferation of independent media in many countries and the rise of digital technologies enabling the free flow of information online.
The anniversary today Wednesday 3rd May, 2023 concides with the 30th anniversary of the Vienna Conference and its Declaration and Programme of Action on Human Rights, which established important institutions safeguarding human rights, and with the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
At home also the event coincides with the 41st anniversary of the establishment of Triumph Publishing Company in Kano to champion the cause of the downtrodden.
This year’s theme for the Day is “Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights,” signifying the enabling element of freedom of expression to enjoy and protect all other human rights.
Partners from the media, academia, and civil society were invited to organize events in New York and around the world centered on this year’s theme.
World Press Freedom Day 2023 will also be the occasion to award the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, which recognizes and honours the contributions of journalists, particularly those who risk their lives to provide essential information to the public.
Many parts of the world would commemorate the day with special events, such as seminars, workshops, conferences or even launches. There might also be local parades and street parties or visiting places that honour the struggle for democracy.
However, this year’s theme could be viewed from many perspective.
This is moreso as attacks on media freedom, safety of journalists and freedom of expression have increasingly become subjects of major concerns which impacts the realization of other human rights.
The international community according to UNESCO draft concept note, “faces multiple crises; conflicts and violence, persistent socio-economic inequalities driving migration, environmental crises and challenges to the health and wellbeing of people all around the world, while disinformation and misinformation online and offline proliferate with serious impact on the institutions underpinning democracy, the rule of law and human rights”.
The note further identified “the collapse of traditional media business models; and tackling hate speech and online harms that disregard international standards”, as new threats confronting freedom of expression, and the fundamental role of human rights.
It is exactly to counter these critical situations and threats, according to the UNESCO concept note, that press freedom, safety of journalists and access to information take centre stage.
The right to freedom of expression, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is a prerequisite and a driver to the enjoyment of all other human rights.
However, as the global community uses this occasion to debates and set the agenda for both the development of human rights and how to protect them in an ever changing world, it’s hoped that it will serve as an opportunity to put a strong focus on freedom of expression within the overall human rights agenda.
It is thus an occasion to spotlight the link between press freedom, freedom of expression and other rights.
Last year however I have cause to looked into a report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) which found that social media companies are endangering Muslim communities by normalising abusive behavior online.
According to the news agency, Reuters, the report said many of the abusive contents were easily identifiable, and yet there was still inaction.
“This report exposed that social media companies, including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube, failed to act on 89 percent of posts containing anti-Muslim hatred and Islamophobic content reported to them,” the Center said.
In a joint statement in 2019, according to the report, Meta, Twitter, and Google attempted to defend themselves arguing that they were committed to upholding their “commitment to ensure they are doing all they can to fight the hatred and extremism that lead to terrorist violence.”
Nonetheless, the CCDH report countered the media companies’ spurious defence saying, “Once again, their press releases prove to be nothing more than empty promises,” pointing out that many of the abusive contents were easily identifiable, and yet there was still inaction.
The report added that, they are using hate as a good business: “Worse still, the platforms profit from this hate, gleefully monetising content, interactions, and the resulting attention and eyeballs.” The report explained.
To buttress their claim the CCDH researchers identified 530 posts which contain disturbing, bigoted, and dehumanising contents that target Muslims through racist caricatures, conspiracies, and false claims.
According to the report, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter allow users to use hashtags such as #deathtoislam, #islamiscancer and #raghead, the report further said content spread using the hashtags received at least 1.3 million impressions.
Such contents further endangers these communities by driving “social divisions, normalising abusive behaviour, and encouraging offline attacks and abuse,” it added.
Perhaps that could have been responsible for the increasing rise of islamaphobia in many parts of the world. Of recent, authorities in India were “selectively and viciously cracking down on Muslims who dare to speak up…against discrimination faced by them,” Amnesty’s Aakar Patel said in a statement on Tuesday, 21/06/2022.
Regrettably, the term “Islamist” in the west and among some non-Muslims in other climes has become shorthand for “Muslims we don’t like.” It is currently used in an almost exclusively pejorative context and is often coupled with the term “extremist,” giving it an even more negative slant.
The frequent linkage of the term “Islamist” to violence and denial of religious and human rights is also strongly promoted by Islamophobic groups and individuals who seek to launch rhetorical attacks on Islam and Muslims, without the public censure that would normally accompany such bigoted attacks on any other faith.
In the west, it is common to find leaders using the term ‘Islamist’ without giving a hoot to its consequences on the about 2 billion adherents of the creed.
There was a time, during a rare public speech, Britain’s domestic intelligence chief warned that the country was facing “an alarming pace of terrorist threat worse than at any time in his 34-year career.’’
The alarm raised by the MI5 Director General, Andrew Parker while speaking to journalists in London was more emphatic on what he described as ‘’an intense U.K. terrorist threat from Islamist extremists.”
This is even as politicians long before now have claimed to have known the truth.
Speaking on ‘securing a better future,’ former British Prime Minister, Theresa May, in September, 2014 for instance delivered a powerful speech exonerating Islam from atrocities committed by people claiming to be Muslims. ‘’This hateful ideology’’ she stated, “has nothing to do with Islam and it is rejected by the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Britain and around the world.’’ She added that “let this message go out that we know Islam is the religion of peace and has nothing to do with the ideology of our enemies.’’
To absolve Islam further, May said, “The Qur’an says, ‘Oh mankind! We created you from a single pair of the male and female, and made into nations and tribes that you may know each other”. ‘‘It says; ‘there is no compulsion in religion.’ She concluded.
Despite such enlightened position, the Western media under whatever influence of hate has coined the word ‘Islamism’ to portray Islamic faith negatively as well as associate its faithful, with violent acts, human rights violations, and political extremism.
However, this term, ‘Islamist,’ used by many media outlets has come under scrutiny even in the Western world. In the US for instance, Ibrahim Hooper, who serves as the National Communications Director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), published an op-ed calling for members of the press to stop using the word. Sadly, as Graham Fuller, the author of the book ‘ A World Without Islam’ noted, “we have all become so accustomed, in the last decade or so, to a world of violence, terrorism, and suicide bombing that we have come to feel that this is the routine method of Muslim warfare’’. “But, quite to the contrary,’’ said Fuller, who was the Vice Chairman, Intelligence Committee of the CIA, “they represent new factors and the strategy sense”.
It is now hard to recall that about three decades ago such event were highly unusual. Fuller observed that, “suicide bombing was almost unheard of in the Muslim world in the 1950s to the 1970s even at the higher of the revolutionary fervor of Arab nationalism and the disastrous defeat of the Arabs in the 1967 war with Israel. Palestinians committed terrorist act against Israel, but they were not suicide mission.
Fuller’s position was further supported by a new report from The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) – a nonprofit news organization based in Emeryville, California, USA, which said most of the designated terrorist groups in the US are right-wing extremists, not Muslim. A joint project by the center, which has conducted investigative journalism since 1977 took a look at 201 designated terrorism incidents within the US from 2008 to 2016.
The results indicate that, “right-wing extremists were behind nearly twice as many incidents” as terror acts associated with those identified as “Islamist domestic terrorism.’’ The report identified 63 incidents involving those “motivated by a theocratic political ideology espoused by such groups as the Islamic State”. This includes the San Bernardino shootings and Boston Marathon bombings, among others.
Right-wing extremists, often white supremacists, according to the report, were responsible for 115 incidents within the same period. Events like Robert Dear’s killing of three people at a Colorado Planned Parenthood women’s health clinic in December 2015 for offering abortion services fall into this category.
Regarding violent extremism on the left of the political spectrum, between 2008 and 2016 there were 19 incidents and seven deaths. The shooting of Republican Congressman playing baseball in Alexandria, Virginia also falls under this category.
The evidence from this report therefore appears to belie former USA president, Donald Trump’s rhetoric, and his “fixation” on Islam.
The report further corroborated an FBI report which shows that only a small percentage of terrorist attacks carried out on U.S. soil between 1980 and 2005 were perpetrated by Muslims.
According to the report Non-Muslims Carried Out More than 90% of All Terrorist Attacks in America.
FBI’s data compiled by Princeton University’s Loon Watch revealed that, “there were more Jewish acts of terrorism within the United States than Islamic (7% against 6%).
“These were not terrorists who happened to be Jews; rather, they were extremist Jews who committed acts of terrorism based on their religious passions, just like Al-Qaeda and company.’’
Loon Watch also notes that less than 1% of terror attacks in Europe were carried out by Muslims.
Since 9/11, according to Charles Kurzman, Professor of Sociology at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, writing for the Triangle Center on Terrorism and National Security and his team counts; 33 Americans have died as a result of terrorism launched by their Muslim neighbours. During that period, 180,000 Americans were murdered for reasons unrelated to terrorism.
Even on the acts committed by the so-called Muslims, Law enforcement, including “informants and undercover agents,” according to Triangle team report, were involved in “almost all of the Muslim-American terrorism plots uncovered in 2012.”
The team finds that’s in keeping with the FBI’s recent practice of using undercover or double agents to encourage would-be terrorists to act on their violent desires and arresting them when they do — a practice critics say comes perilously close to entrapment.
However why despite these huge evidence that the west and the media in particular continue to malign Muslims and their creed? The answer according to many pundits could not be far-fetched from the age-long agenda of checkmating the rising profile of the religion in the world.
Thus, giving a dog bad name, to hang it.
Apprehensive of prospective dominance of Islam as predicted by several researches, the west is deploying its entire media arsenal to combat the fortune of its destiny.
According to a new analysis of data from the Pew Research Center; Muslims are on track to become the world’s fastest-growing major religious group in the years ahead.
Based on the analysis released by Pew, as quoted by The World Post publication of 04/07/2017, Christians make up the largest religious group in the world, at 2.3 billion people, and
Muslims make up the next biggest group, at just fewer than 2 billion. But the global Muslim population, the report added is relatively young, with a high fertility rate and a low death rate.
Pew estimates that; in the five-year period between 2030 and 2035, the Muslim birth rate will overtake the birth rate among Christians, with 225 million babies born to Muslim families in those years, compared to 224 million among Christians.
From that point, the birth gap is only expected to increase. Between 2055 and 2060, Pew estimates, there will be 232 million births among Muslims compared to 226 million births among Christians.
In recent years, Christians have accounted for roughly 37 percent of the world’s deaths ― largely due to the advanced age of Christian populations in some parts of the world.
“This is especially true in Europe, where the number of deaths is already estimated to exceed the number of births among Christians,” Pew notes. “In Germany alone, for example, there were an estimated 1.4 million more Christian deaths than births between 2010 and 2015, a pattern that is expected to continue across much of Europe in the decades ahead.”
By the final decades of the 21st century, Pew predicts, “there will be more Muslims than Christians in the world.’’ And this is the reality the West and its allies are trying hard to fight. But would the West win this battle?
So far, the West’s approach to this stark reality is the deployment of propaganda with a view to arresting the spread of this religion.
Little wonder then, the media is jam-packed with skewed reportage or jaundiced opinion about Islam. Hence, the coinage of names such as ‘Islamist’, ‘militants’, ‘extremist’, etc. to derogate it in the eyes of unsuspecting publics. But would this change the destiny of this religion which professes peace, concord, dialogue and social order?
As the world celebrates this year’s Press Freedom Day therefore, it’s instructive to note that freedom of expression is indeed a driver of other freedoms and human rights, and that only happens if it guarantees freedom of belief, and freedom from fear of attacks against dissenting views or beliefs.
Adamu S. Ladan is the Executive Director, Media Centre for Research, Education and Development (Mcred)