Freedom of the Press Empowers Civil Society

May 2, 2017
In Afghanistan, since 2013, in partnership with Internews, Counterpart has trained emerging female journalists to become leaders in their field.

By: Juanita Adames

A free media is “a mirror in which the public can see itself without mascara and styling gel,” explained former Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunghe to the United Nations.  His quote speaks to the unique role the press plays in informing citizens of the state of their nation, the integrity of government leaders, and their country’s future. A two-sided relationship, the press also serves as a vehicle for civil society, empowering their voices by raising their concerns and serving as a watchdog for actions against the common good. Yet, all around the world today, press freedom is under attack.

In fact, according to Freedom House, at the launch of its Freedom of the Press Report for 2017 – released last week – only 13% of the world has access to an independent media. In 2016, global press freedom declined to its lowest point in recent history amid unprecedented threats to journalists and media outlets around the world. Left unaddressed, this trend will lead to its intended consequences: an uninformed and unengaged public.

Counterpart International was founded on the belief that all people have the right and ability to drive their own destinies. Our work around the globe has shown us that a free and robust press is integral to empowering citizens to achieve the future they envision.

Freedom of The Press Advances Just and Inclusive Societies

In recent months, in partnership with IREX, Counterpart International’s Participación Cívica program trained Guatemalan journalists from print, digital and broadcast media in a new form of investigation, data journalism. By teaching journalists a new set of skills for searching, understanding and visualizing digital sources, this data journalism practicum strengthened the credibility of their investigations. For example, a recent report by Prensa Libre examined Maternity, Life and Death in some of the most vulnerable communities in the country. This investigation brought to light a public health crisis. Supported by the data, it serves as an example of how Guatemalan media institutions have become reliable and accountable institutions of public trust.

In Niger, Counterpart International’s Participatory Responsive Governance – Principal Activity Program works with radio, television, and print media professionals at the national and local levels. Since 2016, Counterpart International has hosted trainings and workshops for media professionals focused specifically on effectively interviewing and discussing priority issues within the health, education, and security sectors. In 2017, we produced and broadcast 15 civic education radio programs in Hausa, French, Zarma, Kanuri, and Tamachek on the roles and responsibilities of municipal and regional council officials with respect to citizen priorities and government service delivery, education, health, and security.

And in Afghanistan, our Afghan Civic Engagement Program empowers citizens – especially women and youth – with the skills needed to influence policy, monitor government accountability and serve as advocates for political reform. Since 2013, in partnership with Internews, Counterpart has trained emerging female journalists to become leaders in their field. Providing them paid internships at Tolo TV and other top media outlets, we have strengthened the impact of Afghanistan’s media through the development of women journalists. For participants like Alia, the program offers her the chance to address compelling issues affecting women.

“It is my dream to help the Afghan people, and women in particular,” says Alia. “Through work in the media, I can give voice to my people, to women, who have been victims of violence for decades. This motivates me every morning to go to work. People make fun of me for being a woman journalist, but I’ll continue to work toward my dream.”

All around the world today, journalists and civil society are facing incredible challenges. As Freedom House notes, less than one in seven people live in countries where coverage of news is robust, the safety of journalists is guaranteed, state intrusion in media affairs is minimal, and the press is free from onerous pressures. As World Press Freedom Day approaches, it is essential to remember the power of civil society voices  to make change and hold governments accountable to the citizens. Counterpart International remains committed to supporting those who serve as catalysts for truth and mutual understanding.