Saturday marked World Press Freedom Day, a UN-declared event meant to underscore the connection between journalism and democracy – and to highlight the very real dangers faced by journalists around the world. In Canada, those risks are minimal – which isn’t to say journalists don’t face barriers in doing their jobs. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression identifies several: Canada’s federal access to information system is inadequate; would-be whistle-blowers lack sufficient protections; and government surveillance of citizens has grown unreasonable.
But compared with other countries, Canada’s press freedom ranks among the best in the world. The worst? Unsurprisingly, North Korea. But the biggest takeaway from this year’s rankings is the global, across-the-board decline. A Gallup survey shows perceptions of media freedom are falling around the world. One of the places it’s most pronounced is Egypt.
After Mohamed Morsi came to power in 2012, he presided over a concerted effort to bring the media under the Muslim Brotherhood’s control. When the army ousted him, the pendulum swung in the other direction, and things went from bad to worse. Scores of bloggers and journalists have been charged with links to the Brotherhood. Canadian Mohamed Fahmy is among them.
The Al-Jazeera journalist has languished in a Cairo prison for three months on trumped-up charges of spreading “false news” and supporting a terrorist organization. The allegations against him are absurd, a function of the deep paranoia of Egypt’s military rulers. This year, World Press Freedom Day coincided with Mr. Fahmy’s seventh appearance in court. The organization’s Canadian Committee awarded him an award in recognition of his ordeal. In a handwritten letter smuggled out of prison, Mr. Fahmy explained why the prize was important: “A key part of our defence has been to convince the judge of our professional integrity; to prove to him that we are journalists striving for the truth; and not agents of terror. This award will go a long way toward making our case.”
Canadians should be asking why Ottawa has not done more to secure Mr. Fahmy’s freedom. His continued detention does not only speak to the failings of Egypt’s government. It underscores the failures of our own.
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