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World Press Freedom Day recommended reading

In 1993 the United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 to be celebrated as World Press Freedom Day.

This day is an opportunity to celebrate press freedom around the world and to acknowledge the journalists who continue their work regardless of the attacks on their independence. This list was created by the staff of the Democracy Resource Center. Check out the National Endowment for Democracy: World Press Freedom Day page to learn more.


Networked Press Freedom: Creating Infrastructures for a Public Right to Hear by Mike Ananny

In Networked Press Freedom, Mike Ananny offers a new way to think about freedom of the press in a time when media systems are in fundamental flux. Ananny challenges the idea that press freedom comes only from heroic, lone journalists who speak truth to power. Instead, drawing on journalism studies, institutional sociology, political theory, science and technology studies, and an analysis of ten years of journalism discourse about news and technology, he argues that press freedom emerges from social, technological, institutional, and normative forces that vie for power and fight for visions of democratic life. He shows how dominant, historical ideals of professionalized press freedom often mistook journalistic freedom from constraints for the public’s freedom to encounter the rich mix of people and ideas that self-governance requires. Ananny’s notion of press freedom ensures not only an individual right to speak, but also a public right to hear. Seeing press freedom as essential for democratic self-governance, Ananny explores what publics need, what kind of free press they should demand, and how today’s press freedom emerges from intertwined collections of humans and machines. If someone says, ‘The public needs a free press,’ Ananny urges us to ask in response, ‘What kind of public, what kind of freedom, and what kind of press?’ Answering these questions shows what robust, self-governing publics need to demand of technologists and journalists alike.

Free Speech and Unfree News: The Paradox of Press Freedom in America by Sam Lebovic

Does America have a free press? Many who answer yes appeal to First Amendment protections that shield the press from government censorship. But in this comprehensive history of American press freedom as it has existed in theory, law, and practice, Sam Lebovic shows that, on its own, the right of free speech has been insufficient to guarantee a free press. Lebovic recovers a vision of press freedom, prevalent in the mid-twentieth century, based on the idea of unfettered public access to accurate information. This “right to the news” responded to persistent worries about the quality and diversity of the information circulating in the nation’s news. Yet as the meaning of press freedom was contested in various arenas–Supreme Court cases on government censorship, efforts to regulate the corporate newspaper industry, the drafting of state secrecy and freedom of information laws, the unionization of journalists, and the rise of the New Journalism–Americans chose to define freedom of the press as nothing more than the right to publish without government censorship. The idea of a public right to all the news and information was abandoned, and is today largely forgotten. Free Speech and Unfree News compels us to reexamine assumptions about what freedom of the press means in a democratic society–and helps us make better sense of the crises that beset the press in an age of aggressive corporate consolidation in media industries, an increasingly secretive national security state, and the daily newspaper’s continued decline.

Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media by Jacob Mchangama

Often hailed as the “first freedom,” free speech is the bedrock of democracy, the enemy of tyranny, and the gateway to enlightenment. Research reveals a strong correlation between freedom of speech and democracy, innovation, and advancements in human rights, as well as reductions in conflict, corruption, and discrimination. But for all its benefits, free speech remains a challenging, controversial, and often counterintuitive principle, easily subject to erosion in times of social and political upheaval. And today, in democracies and authoritarian states around the world, freedom of speech is now on the retreat. In Free Speech, Jacob Mchangama traces the long, contested history of a powerful idea, beginning with its origins in the intellectual ferment of classical Athens, where it enabled the development of the world’s first democracy. Through captivating stories of defenders of free speech throughout history, from the eighth century ‘Abbāsid caliph Abū Ja’far al-Manṣūr to the anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells, Mchangama reveals how the free exchange of knowledge and ideas underlies all scientific and literary achievement, and how it has enabled the advancement of civil rights across the globe. Indeed, he argues, freedom of speech has far more often served the cause of the oppressed than the cause of the oppressors. Yet the temptation to restrict speech, too, is a historical constant, and Mchangama explores how elite entrenchment and anxiety about new technologies can lead even the most dedicated defenders of liberty down this dangerous path. Meticulously researched and deeply humane, Free Speech demonstrates just how much humanity has gained from this essential principle – and just how much we stand to lose if we allow it to erode.

In the Mouth of the Wolf = (En la boca del lobo) : A Murder, a Cover-Up, and the True Cost of Silencing the Press by Katherine Corcoran

Regina Martínez was no stranger to retaliation. A journalist out of Mexico’s Gulf Coast state of Veracruz, Regina’s stories for the magazine Proceso laid out the corruption and abuse underlying Mexican politics. She was barred from press conferences, and copies of Proceso often disappeared before they made the newsstands. In 2012, shortly after Proceso published an article on corruption and two Veracruz politicians, and the magazine went missing once again, she was bludgeoned to death in her bathroom. The message was clear: No journalist in Mexico was safe. Katherine Corcoran, then leading the Associated Press coverage of Mexico, admired Regina Martínez’s work. Troubled by the news of her death, Corcoran journeyed to Veracruz to find out what had happened. Regina hadn’t even written the controversial article. But did she have something else that someone didn’t want published? Once there, Katherine bonded with four of Regina’s grief-stricken mentees, each desperate to prove who was to blame for the death of their friend. Together they battled cover-ups, narco-officials, red tape, and threats to sift through the mess of lies–and discover what got Regina killed. A gripping look at reporters who dare to step on the deadly “third rail,” where the state and organized crime have become indistinguishable, In the Mouth of the Wolf confronts how silencing the free press threatens basic protections and rule of law across the globe.

The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom by Joel Simon

Journalists are being imprisoned and killed in record numbers. Online surveillance is annihilating privacy, and the Internet can be brought under government control at any time. Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, warns that we can no longer assume our global information ecosystem is stable, protected, and robust. Journalists — and the crucial news they report — are increasingly vulnerable to attack by authoritarian governments, militants, criminals, and terrorists, who all seek to use technology, political pressure, and violence to set the global information agenda. Reporting from Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, Egypt, and Mexico, among other hotspots, Simon finds journalists under threat from all sides. The result is a growing crisis in information — a shortage of the news we need to make sense of our globalized world and to fight against human rights abuses, manage conflict, and promote accountability. Drawing on his experience defending journalists on the front lines, he calls on “global citizens,” U.S. policy makers, international law advocates, and human rights groups to create a global freedom-of-expression agenda tied to trade, climate, and other major negotiations. He proposes ten key priorities, including combating the murder of journalists, ending censorship, and developing a global free-expression charter challenging criminal and corrupt forces that seek to manipulate the world’s news.

The Abduction and Trial of Jestina Mukoko: The Fight for Human Rights in Zimbabwe by Jestina Mukoko and Elinor Sisulu

A former broadcast journalist, Jestina Mukoko parted ways with the Zimbabwean state broadcaster in 2000 after becoming concerned about the level of editorial interference. In 2002, while she was working for an independent radio station, she became a human rights activist. Then, at the crack of dawn on 3 December 2008, Jestina’s life as she knew it changed forever. The Abduction and Trial ofJestina Mukoko describes how, still in her night clothes and in front of her teenaged son, she was bundled into an unmarked vehicle and abducted. In flashbacks interspersed with anecdotes about her childhood and family and her work at the Zimbabwe Peace Project (which seemed to be the catalyst for the state’s persecution), Jestina documents what happened to her between 3 December 2008 and her first appearance in court on Christmas Eve of the same year. During her many appearances in court and continued persecution, Jestina challenged her abduction, torture and the fact that she was not protected by the law. Jestina’s family also suffered in their desperation to find her; visiting government offices for assistance and getting none, searching hospitals and morgues and feeling hope and despair whenever the body of a woman was found – even visiting the much-feared Goromonzi prison. This book is a testament to the power of the human spirit and the will to survive. It is Jestina’s first-hand account of one of the most turbulent and repressive periods in Zimbabwe’s history and the social, economic and political situation that existed there in 2008.

Assignment China: an Oral History of American Journalists in the People’s Republic by Mike Chinoy

In Assignment China, former CNN correspondent Mike Chinoy draws together a remarkable collection of personal accounts from some of America’s most eminent journalists to describe the evolution of reporting on China. Seymour Topping, Stanley Karnow, Barbara Walters, Dan Rather, Nicholas Kristof, Evan Osnos and David Barboza, among dozens of others, describe what it was like to report on some of the most important events of the last 75 years. At turns amusing, revealing and shocking, we discover the extraordinary challenges faced by correspondents as they covered such historic moments as the Chinese civil war’ Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution; Richard Nixon’s groundbreaking visit in 1972; China’s opening up to the outside world; the crackdown in Tiananmen Square; corruption at the highest levels of government; and the Covid pandemic – all set against the background of the country’s extraordinary economic boom and steady march towards superpower status. Assignment China is an enthralling read for China-watchers and anyone else interested in how people around the world get their news about this major global power.

Red Lines : Political Cartoons and the Struggle Against Censorship by Cherian George and Sonny Liew

Dangerous ideas: a brief history of censorship in the West, from the ancients to fake news by Eric Berkowitz

A fascinating examination of how restricting speech has continuously shaped our culture, and and how – regardless of political leanings – every individual can act as both the suppressors and the suppressed. Through compelling narrative, historian Eric Berkowitz uses stories of the past to reveal the dangers of erasing history and how censorship has shaped our modern society. More than just a history of censorship, Dangerous Ideas illuminates the power of censorship, how it has shaped states, ideas, and culture, and it’s something we all participate in. This engaging cultural history of censorship and thought suppression throughout the ages takes readers from the first Chinese emperor’s wholesale elimination of books to the Vatican’s suppression of pornography from its own collection, to Henry VIII’s decree of death for anyone who “imagined” his demise, and on to the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the troll armies that swarm critics of the Trump administration. Highlighting the base impulses from many famous acts of suppression, scholar Eric Berkowitz demonstrates the fragility of power and how censorship is used as a tool to maintain the class and gender disparities of the status quo. 

Digital dissidence and social media censorship in Africa by Farooq A Kperogi

This book reflects on the rapid rise of social media across the African continent, and the legal and extra-legal efforts governments have invented to try to contain it. The relentless growth of social media platforms in Africa has provided the means of resistance, self-expression, and national self-fashioning for the continent’s restlessly energetic and contagiously creative youth. This has provided a profound challenge to the African “gatekeeper state”, which has often responded with strategies to constrict and constrain the rhetorical luxuriance of the social media and digital sphere. Drawing on cases from across the continent, contributors explore the form and nature of social media and government censorship, whether via anti-social media laws, or less overt tactics such as state cyber-surveillance, spyware attacks on social media activists or the artful deployment of the rhetoric of “fake news” as a smokescreen to muzzle critical voices. The book also reflects on the Chinese influence in African governments’ clampdown on social media and the role of Israeli NSO Group Technologies, as well as the tactics and technologies which activists and users are deploying to resist or circumvent social media censorship. Drawing on a range of methodologies and disciplinary approaches, this book will be an important contribution to researchers with an interest in social media activism, digital rebellion, discursive democracy in transitional societies, censorship on the Internet, and Africa more broadly.

Journalist safety and self-censorship by Anna Grøndahl Larsen, Ingrid Fadnes, Roy Krøvel

This book explores the relationship between the safety of journalists and self-censorship practices around the world, including local case studies and regional and international perspectives. Bringing together scholars and practitioners from around the globe, Journalist Safety and Self-Censorship provides new and updated insights into patterns of self-censorship and free speech, focusing on a variety of factors that affect these issues, including surveillance, legislation, threats, violent conflict, gender-related stereotypes, digitisation, and social media. The contributions examine topics such as trauma, risk and self-censorship among journalists in different regions of the world, including contributions exploring issues of self-censorship in Central America, Estonia, Turkey, Uganda, and Pakistan. The book also provides conceptual clarity to the notion of journalist self-censorship, and explores the question of how self-censorship may be studied empirically. Combining both theoretical and practical knowledge, this collection serves as a much-needed resource for any academic, student of journalism, practicing journalist, or NGO working on issues of journalism, safety, free speech and censorship.

Burning the books: a history of the deliberate destruction of knowledge by Richard Ovenden, Belknap Press

The director of the famed Bodleian Libraries at Oxford narrates the global history of the willful destruction–and surprising survival–of recorded knowledge over the past three millennia. Libraries and archives have been attacked since ancient times but have been especially threatened in the modern era. Today the knowledge they safeguard faces purposeful destruction and willful neglect; deprived of funding, libraries are fighting for their very existence. Burning the Books recounts the history that brought us to this point. Richard Ovenden describes the deliberate destruction of knowledge held in libraries and archives from ancient Alexandria to contemporary Sarajevo, from smashed Assyrian tablets in Iraq to the destroyed immigration documents of the United Kingdom’s Windrush generation. He examines both the motivations for these acts–political, religious, and cultural–and the broader themes that shape this history. He also looks at attempts to prevent and mitigate attacks on knowledge, exploring the efforts of librarians and archivists to preserve information, often risking their own lives in the process. More than simply repositories for knowledge, libraries and archives inspire and inform citizens. In preserving notions of statehood recorded in such historical documents as the Declaration of Independence, libraries support the state itself. By preserving records of citizenship and records of the rights of citizens as enshrined in legal documents such as the Magna Carta and the decisions of the United States Supreme Court, they support the rule of law. In Burning the Books, Ovenden takes a polemical stance on the social and political importance of the conservation and protection of knowledge, challenging governments in particular, but also society as a whole, to improve public policy and funding for these essential institutions.

The great firewall of China: how to build and control an alternative version of the Internet by James T Griffiths

China’s ‘Great Firewall’ has evolved into the most sophisticated system of online censorship in the world. As the Chinese internet grows and online businesses thrive, speech is controlled, dissent quashed, and attempts to organise outside the official Communist Party are quickly stamped out. Updated throughout and available in paperback for the first time, The Great Firewall of China draws on James Griffiths’ unprecedented access to the Great Firewall and the politicians, tech leaders, dissidents and hackers whose lives revolve around it. New chapters cover the suppression of information about the first outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, disinformation campaigns in response to the exposure of the persecution of Uyghur communities in Xinjiang and the crackdown against the Umbrella movement in Hong Kong.