Media freedom and democracy

Zhang Zhan

This screengrab taken on December 28, 2020 from an undated video showing former Chinese lawyer and citizen journalist Zhang Zhan as she broadcasts via YouTube, at an unconfirmed location in China. 

Photo credit: AFP

What you need to know:

  • Unfortunately, China is not alone in harassing the media.
  • In the recent past, reporters have faced attacks in Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, Egypt and Turkey.

Ever since a Chinese citizen journalist was jailed for four years for her live stream reporting from Wuhan as the Covid-19 outbreak unfurled the world, many people would ask themselves several questions: Wasn’t Zhang Zhan doing her work by reporting the truth? Why would the Chinese government want to continue controlling information flow during an unprecedented global health crisis?

China’s communist authorities have a history of muzzling pro-democracy ideologies championed by media practitioners. This happens when an international team of the World Health Organization (WHO) experts are expected to visit China in a few weeks’ time to investigate the origins of the virus. They will cage the role of media in world democracies and how that country is currently rated.

Media, however, is all about democracy; media coverage and treatment of violent extremism; radicalisation and terrorism is in the spot-light but does report by observing professional standards and ethics.

Through journalism, readers would participate in debating, of which the Chinese authorities would in turn use the opinions in policy-making.

Balanced reporting

The arrest of the Chinese journalist may not have been a lone gesture. Other people could get involved because of media exposure for instance the police, courts and ordinary citizens who get engaged in the arrests of pro-democracy people.

However, in China, it doesn’t matter whether there is a balanced reporting or not, their media is largely characterised by pro-state propaganda inclined towards official information where figures are announced by the communist authorities.

The one-party state manipulates data before it is disseminated. However, in a democratic world, a journalist’s duty and responsibility is to tell a story using best international standards and practices based on truth, credibility, accuracy, impartiality and fairness.

Unfortunately, China is not alone in harassing the media. In the recent past, reporters have faced attacks in Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, Egypt and Turkey. In Saudi Arabia, they get killed for being anti-establishment in their reports. In Uganda, a journalist was injured after police teargased a crowd covering a Bobi Wine rally.

To attain democratic practices, the media is crucial because it helps citizens in conflict resolution. Journalism promotes knowledge. The media must be left to play its role in keeping power in check.

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