World Press Freedom Day 2016

by Jeremy Villanueva

We are just four months into 2016 and already 10 journalists have been killed while covering their beats, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

It’s just one of the reasons the Global Center for Journalism and Democracy participated for the fourth consecutive year in the United Nations’ World Press Freedom Day.

Although World Press Freedom Day is May 3, GCJD celebrated it on April 27th,  while most students were still on campus.

“If we educate only a small fraction of Sam Houston State University students to be aware about the need for a free press around the world, I think the Global Center would have done its job,” SHSU Digital Media Graduate Program Coordinator Robin Johnson, PhD, said. “It’s certainly something that we don’t teach to every student at Sam Houston State University. Just a little awareness goes a long way to have them reflect upon a free press.”

Johnson stressed the importance of the press in holding people accountable, especially those in power in government and at corporations. He added that when press freedom is absent, it creates a vacuum for corruption to occur.

“When you look at areas that don’t have a free press, you generally find corruption,” Johnson said. “If you take any country that is ruled by dictatorship that doesn’t allow the press to say anything against them, they’re generally able to get away with anything they want.”

That’s a familiar scenario to SHSU Mass Communication Associate Professor Kiwon Seo, PhD. He grew up in South Korea and explained how he experienced changes in his country in regards to a free press and censorship.

“There are some stupid politicians in Korea who tried to manipulate mass media to press stories that are favored by them,” Seo said. “It turns out because of the new media like Internet and social media because of these highly educated citizens, they failed. It brought a huge awareness from people that the importance of good journalism”

GCJD created a cemetery in the Lowman Student Center mall area for World Press Freedom Day. The cemetery honored the 72 journalists who died doing their duties in 2015, and those killed this year as well. GCJD students also posed as some of those deceased journalists, telling their stories to students, staff and faculty. Participants were given t-shirts with the slogan “No Press, No Freedom”. 

Past GCJD events have focused not only on journalists who have lost their lives, but on other issues including missing Texas Journalist Austin Tice, and the United State’s ranking in the world when it comes to free press.

Journalists around the world commemorate World Press Freedom Day to raise awareness about the importance of a free press, to push for reforms that ensure journalists can continue to do their important work, and highlight that the press does not exist in a vacuum. Those journalists argue that if one country limits press freedom, it hurts citizens around the globe. 

“Mass media tells us what is wrong and what is right,” Seo said. “It gives us certain direction that this society must pursue. Censorship, of course, is a huge disaster to democracy.”

Global Center for Journalism and Democracy
Dan Rather Communications Building, Room 201, Huntsville, TX 77340
Phone: (936) 294-4399