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Expert: Press Freedom Critical to Preserving U.S. Democracy

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Friday, May 3, 2019   

TUCSON, Ariz. – Today is United Nations' World Press Freedom Day, and events are planned across the globe. However, journalists and other experts see recent events as more proof that that Americans should consider how to protect their own press freedoms.

Despite constitutional protections, the news media in the United States is under daily attack. Jeannine Relly, a professor at the University of Arizona School of Journalism, says the advent of social media and the current, sharp Red-Blue political divide have created serious challenges to the free flow of information for Americans.

"In the global rankings of press freedom, the U.S. has slowly fallen,” says Relly. “It's been over a couple of years, and some of the reasons are economic – just the fragmentation of media and the lack of sustainability, in some cases."

Relly says a decade ago, the erosion of press freedoms was studied mostly in other countries, as corrupt government officials and others tried to intimidate reporters. And in the extreme, she notes more than 50 journalists worldwide were murdered last year while doing their jobs.

In the U.S., Relly adds that such political slogans as "fake news," "lame-stream media," and President Donald Trump's use of the phrase "enemy of the people," all are designed to strip news organizations of their credibility.

"Encouraging people to not trust journalists is another way of eroding press freedom, in that the institution isn't trusted, and people have animosity and show animosity,” says Relly. “That becomes not a very secure environment to be in."

Relly says as a teacher, she sees journalism students considering a wider range of career opportunities than those graduating just a few years ago.

"What I'm seeing is people coming in and thinking about doing independent work,” says Relly, “launching podcasts or being independent documentary producers. Some of them want to work for NGOs, and some still wanting to work for news organizations."

Dozens of groups are sponsoring World Press Freedom Day events, and PEN America, an advocacy group for freedom of expression, is hosting events across several cities. More information is online at 'pen.org.'



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