An official website of the United States government

Ambassador Davis Ba’s Remarks at UNJCI World Press Freedom Day Event
April 6, 2023

Ambassador Davis Ba’s Remarks at UNJCI World Press Freedom Day Event


Ambassador Davis Ba’s Remarks at UNJCI World Press Freedom Day Event

Abidjan, May 3, 2023

Today, we celebrate World Press Freedom Day 2023.  The United States is a champion of freedom of the press.  This is an opportunity to reflect on the ever-evolving role of journalism and media in our societies.

One fascinating statistic I have learned about Côte d’Ivoire since my recent arrival is that it has more cell phone subscriptions (37 million) than inhabitants (28 million).  Most of these phones are connected to the internet, giving people unprecedented access to information.

This is a transformative time!  The internet has brought about tremendous positive change to Côte d’Ivoire.  It has connected people, promoted economic growth, improved healthcare, and provided access to education.  Those new connections have created dignity for innumerable citizens of the world who did not previously have the same connectivity.

The digital revolution also poses enormous opportunities.  Previously, a privileged few – usually governments and media companies – controlled mass communication.  Today, a savvy individual can instantly share information with an online audience of millions.

As such, we all have a great responsibility as “digital citizens.”  But with opportunities come challenges.  We are responsible for combatting false narratives that are appealing on the surface but are, in fact, purposely spread to undermine democratic societies.

In Côte d’Ivoire, we often hear the term “fake news”: false information, often with eye-catching headlines that grab our attention.  “Fake News” is one crucial tool malign actors use to advance their political or economic agenda.

Although journalists and responsible social media users can usually find and identify “fake news,” the false information can be challenging to reverse.  Too often, the damage is already done by the time the truth is out.   Journalists are obligated to set the record straight – and it’s often a battle for the truth.  We are responsible to defend truth and facts.

We all must be responsible digital citizens.  We are all capable of combatting misinformation, “fake news, ” and malign propaganda, which is usually more challenging to spot and fact-check.  The propaganda I am describing includes deliberately and maliciously manipulating facts and narratives to advance a particular political agenda.  These false narratives usually aim to discredit democratic governments, generate confusion, sow mistrust, and distract populations from other crimes and injustices.

We cannot fall into this trap.  The United States is ready to be your partner in fighting disinformation.

In addition to fact-checking “fake news,” journalists – the voice of the voiceless, the defenders of truth, and the champions of integrity – have a responsibility to find and discredit false narratives meant to harm.  In fact, we all have a role.  We must work together to educate populations and build information resilience to prevent the spread of harmful propaganda.

Increasingly, these connections are happening over social media.  I encourage those with impactful voices online to think twice before sharing questionable content that leads to discord and distrust.  All of us can be a force for good.  Each of us is a digital citizen – with a civic responsibility.

I also challenge online opinion leaders to make your voice heard in favor of democracy, good governance, and peaceful cohabitation.  Your voices are essential and influential.  So many, especially youth, look to you for example and validation.  Share your story!

I would like to especially thank UNJCI for organizing today’s event.  You are an important embassy partner and protector of press freedom.

The great American journalist Edward R. Murrow observed even in 1964 – over half a century ago – that, “The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue.”  It is our responsibility to embrace the changes in the media environment.  We must all adapt and evolve so that the press remains a powerful force for good in our world.

The United States is ready to stand with you throughout this evolution, throughout this revolution.

Thank you, and happy World Press Freedom Day.