On World Press Freedom Day, UN officials urge protection for journalists

On World Press Freedom Day, UN officials urge protection for journalists

As World Press Freedom Day was marked globally today, United Nations officials warned that free speech remains fragile and urged greater protection for journalists seeking to exercise that right.

Freedom of expression "can never be taken for granted," emphasized a joint statement by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Koichiro Matsuura, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson.

The officials pointed out that in many parts of the world today, free speech is "threatened by political, economic, financial, military, religious or even criminal interests." Journalists whose work challenges those interests are "liable to suffer intimidation, violence, exile, prison, and even execution or simple murder."

The statement called on all decision-makers to "do whatever they can" to ensure that journalists are able to work unhindered and undeterred, so that people throughout the world can benefit from the free flow of ideas.

At the same time, the officials urged journalists to "adhere to the highest standards of their profession; to refuse to lend their skills to hate-mongering; and always to uphold the principle of impartiality."

The international community as a whole was called on to defend and protect the right to receive and impart information free from censorship, "through any media and regardless of frontiers."

The third day of May was designated as World Press Freedom Day by the General Assembly in 1993. The date commemorates the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press, adopted on 3 May 1991 at a Seminar organized by the UN.

In their statement, the officials recalled that the Windhoek Declaration "became the first in a series of commitments, region by region, to uphold the freedom of people everywhere to voice their opinions, and their access to a variety of independent sources of information."