May 3rd: World Press Freedom Day

Freedom of the press is probably one of the highest public goods we have. It grants us access to a diverse variety of information and thus the opportunity to form a critical and comprehensive opinion and to engage freely with more controversial topics. I think that’s a good reason to talk about press freedom.

Although we are used to the freedom of the press in Germany, it wasn’t that long ago that it was implemented. While other Western countries like Great Britain, Sweden, France, and Belgium acted much more progressively after the end of the totalitarian period, Germany, still divided into smaller states, restricted press freedom. After the March Revolution in Germany in 1848, more liberal press laws were introduced. However, when the German empire was founded 23 years later, regulations were implemented again. So it was only with the founding of the Weimar Republic that a censor-free press law was adopted just to be abolished again in the Third Reich, of course. The GDR never allowed any journalistic freedom unlike the Federal Republic of Germany at the time. In the end, you might say that Germany as a whole has enjoyed these high-held privileges since the reunification.

World Press Freedom Day promotes the belief that freedom of the press and freedom of expression provides a basis for mutual understanding and sustainable peace. “It serves as an occasion to inform citizens of violations of press freedom – a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended, and closed down, while journalists, editors, and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered.”( And we don’t have to travel to the other side of the earth to experience the oppression of journalism. In Turkey, for example, journalists are imprisoned for publishing dissident opinions. Many have to leave their country to be safe. Can Dündar is one of them and wrote about his life and experiences before and in prison. Lebenslang für die Wahrheit is just one of the books he wrote about the political circumstances in Turkey. And even though it might not be school literature, Dündar and his story are definitely worth integrating into German/English/Politics/etc. classes when discussing the press and its rights.

In dystopian literature, the freedom of the press and expression are amongst the first rights that are taken away because control over the distribution of information equals control over the distribution of knowledge equals control over society. At least, that’s the causal structure described in many dystopian texts from Huxley, to Orwell and Atwood. Of course, most of these are quite extreme examples, which, however, makes them so great for engaging with the subject critically. George Orwell even wrote a preface to Animal Farm that describes the process of the book’s publication which was difficult because he so harshly criticizes the Russian regime.

I think history and literature show that press freedom should not be taken for granted. Today is the perfect day for a little impetus for thought, be it with a dystopian novel, newspaper articles, or some TV. It’s important to talk about the freedom of the press and actively appreciate the opportunity of a differentiated discourse!

Stay positive and tolerant and have a great day!