RSF Sweden and Pressbyrån recreate the voice of imprisoned journalist Dawit Isaak using AI

Pressbyrån and Reporters Without Borders have joined on World Press Freedom Day in a campaign for Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak, in jail for 20 years in Eritrea. They have used AI to bring back to life the words of the world’s longest imprisoned journalist.

Using ChatGPT-4, the Swedish chain of convenience stores Pressbyrån and Reporters Without Borders in Sweden have recreated the prose of Dawit Isaak, imprisoned in Eritrea since 2001, in an article highlighting the importance of press freedom. In collaboration with the national newspaper  Expressen, one of Sweden’s leading news dailies, the article was published digitally and in the paper’s print edition on the 3rd of May, World Press Freedom Day.

The text titled “An Ode to Free Speech” is based on a dataset containing up to as many as 36,000 words written by Dawit Isaak in both published and censored articles. The  material was collected with the help of Reporters Without Borders and fed into an AI  platform. Based on a prompt instructing the AI to write an article with the same tone, style  and qualities as those which characterise the work of Dawit Isaak, the article was produced  and continuously reviewed by Dawit’s family and journalists who are very familiar with his  texts and his journalistic work.

“There is a lot that can be said about AI and the huge challenges it poses in terms of  press freedom, but being able to return the voice of a journalist who has  been imprisoned and gagged for almost twenty-two years felt huge. No other  journalist in the world has been imprisoned as long. We remain mobilised so that he can soon write again.

Erik Halkjaer
Chairman of Reporters Without Borders Sweden

Excerpts of the created article:

“What do we do as the light of free expression begins to flicker, and the shadows of oppression creep closer? Have we got the courage to stand tall and defend that which constitutes the bedrock of our democracy? On this day – World Press Freedom Day – let us remind ourselves of a truth we must never forget: Press freedom is not something we can take for granted. On the contrary, it is a treasure that must be protected, monitored and revered.”

“Let us draw inspiration from those who dare to defy oppression, pave the way for our right to think freely, and defend press freedom. Let us take energy from that power which can only come from the truth, from the light of the free word that breaks through the darkness of oppression. Let us gather around the waterfall of emotions that rages through our shared struggle and takes form from the words we whisper, shout, and sing on freedom. Today, on World Press Freedom Day, let us stand united behind this – our conviction that we must fight to protect and preserve press freedom, and never take it for granted. We must be clear that when press freedom is curtailed, it is our very democracy that is put under threat. A society without a free press is no more than a world of shadows where the truth always falls astray.”

Note : Dawit Isaak’s family has approved the creation and publication of this article, which interprets how the Swedish-Eritrean journalist would have written if he were free today.

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