‘Lack of media freedom is the first sign of a dictatorship’ – Pope Francis

Pope Francis spoke of the “pain” of hearing statistics about slain journalists including Daphne Caruana Galizia, Lyra McKee and Jamal Khashoggi while addressing the Foreign Press Association at the Vatican on Saturday.

“I listened in pain to the statistics about your colleagues killed while carrying out their work with courage and dedication in so many countries to report on what is happening in wars and other dramatic situations in which so many of our brothers and sisters in the world live,” he said.

The Pope called on journalists to carry out their work with courage. “Freedom of the press and expression is an important indicator of the state of a country’s health. Let’s not forget that one of the first things dictatorships do is to remove freedom of the press or mask it, leaving it not free.”

He heard the Association’s President, Patricia Thomas of Associated Press TV, talk about the plight of journalists that have been threatened, injured or murdered due to their work.

The Pope urged journalists not to lose interest in stories, just because they no longer made headlines, referring to the suffering of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Two Reuters journalists were jailed in the country for allegedly breaking the Official Secrets Act. They spent 500 days in prison before walking free earlier this month.

Journalists should continue reporting on the plight of those who suffer. “We need journalists who are on the side of victims, on the side of those who are persecuted, on the side of those who are excluded, cast aside, discriminated against,” he said.

“I urge you to work according to truth and justice… only the truth makes us free,” the Pope told journalists.

He lamented the use of derogatory, hateful and violent language designed to hurt and destroy, noting that it had become a habit for many.

Malta’s ranking in Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) World Press Freedom Index has slipped a total of 32 places since 2013, when the Labour Party came to power. Dropping 12 points in 2018 alone, the independent watchdog noted that “the government openly attempt to discredit independent journalists while actively silencing calls from civil society for justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia”.

The deterioration of freedom of expression and the rule of law in the country has also been criticised by the UN, the EU, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. Last week, RSF called on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to open country monitoring procedures on Malta.

The Prime Minister and government officials continue to pursue libel cases against the slain journalist posthumously.


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