Defenders of the truth

By Mark Tungate

May 3 was International Press Freedom Day: a good opportunity to take a look at what the advertising world is doing to promote freedom of speech.

From fake news to the Russian propaganda war being fought alongside the Ukraine invasion, the truth has never been harder to find. Yet even in today’s labyrinthine digital world, there are still journalists who insist on unearthing and diffusing facts – sometimes at the risk of imprisonment, or worse.

Agencies have used smart and eye-opening ideas to raise awareness of this issue. Take the recent initiative from Reporters Without Borders and DDB Berlin, “The Truth Wins”. Aimed at countries like Russia, Turkey and Brazil, where press censorship is rife, the campaign turned something that will never be censored – winning national lottery numbers – into a code that gave access to an uncensored Twitter news stream. This film explains it better.

Freedom of speech is constantly under threat in the Philippines, where a number of journalists have been murdered. To protest against this, the local union for journalists – the NUJP – teamed up with Ace Saatchi & Saatchi to create a neat, simple visual idea using something we’ve all had to wear in recent months: masks.

Next stop on this tour of troubled countries: Nicaragua, where the government has been waging war on the newspaper La Prensa since 2018. Things came to a head when the authorities confiscated the newspaper’s ink. But the paper turned the problem into a solution that resonated across social media.

Did you know that, in Brazil, cake recipes symbolise press censorship? That’s because they were printed in place of articles the government had deemed too dangerous to allow. Last year, FCB Brasil transported the symbol into the digital realm thanks to Twitter and blockchain. NFT “cakes” were created to capture incidents of censorship in art form – and thanks to the magic of blockchain, they can never be removed. Here’s how the “Sweetblock” worked.

Publicis Mexico has run several editions of its #stillspeakingup campaign, which gives murdered journalists a voice. Initially, it resurrected their Twitter accounts as if they were still alive, with other writers providing their “voices”. Then, in 2020, the agency used deep fake technology to bring assassinated journalist Javier Valdez back to life. The following speech was broadcast on the Dia de los Muertos – the Day of the Dead in Mexico.

Back in Europe, DDB Berlin and Reporters Without Frontiers were also behind another award-winning campaign in this field: The Uncensored Library. This engaged a young audience by taking the topic of press freedom to Minecraft.

To end on a lighter but pertinent note, here’s a film from German news broadcaster Deutsche Welle about something that keeps autocrats awake at night. Can you guess what it is?

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