Only free media can advance national interests, UN official tells meeting in Iran

Only free media can advance national interests, UN official tells meeting in Iran

Nations seeking to insulate themselves from powerful global trends are likely only to see their political, economic and cultural fortunes wane, a United Nations official stressed in a meeting with Iranian journalists in the city of Shiraz.

The only way a country could protect and advance its interests was to engage fully with the world and understand its workings, and the national institution best placed to bring about such engagement was a free, vibrant and responsible media, Salim Lone, Director of the News and Media Division of the UN's Department of Public Information, said on Tuesday in a speech that was widely reported by the Iranian press.

Taking part in the event at the invitation of the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Mr. Lone said it had been a pleasure to see that the press in Iran was at the centre of the democratic transformation under way in the country. Particularly striking was the large number of women journalists working in the Iranian press, he noted.

Mr. Lone, who had earlier addressed a meeting of the Iranian Journalists' Association in Tehran, said he was aware some journalists were in jail or awaiting criminal trials, but the struggle for a free press was being publicly waged with a passion and energy that few countries could rival. The United Nations embodied humanity's collective aspirations and sought to make them a reality by supporting people everywhere in their efforts to build just, peaceful, prosperous and democratic societies, he emphasized. The world Organization believed that these goals would not be attainable without a free media.

There were those who believed, as many did in Iran, that freedom of the press and goals such as human rights and the advancement of women, were "Western" concepts used by powerful countries to advance their interests, Mr. Lone said. But this was a profound misreading not only of these concepts and of history, but also of the resonance and power these ideas had to inspire people in every region of the world.

It was, however, up to the people of each religion and each country to choose, by consensus, the manner and the pace in which they advanced the interests of every segment of society. The world had to make space for countries to chart their own course, just as each nation needed to create space for the various groups vying peacefully to influence national priorities and directions.

The Islamic Revolution of Iran was one of the seminal events of the last half-century, and had become a milestone in the history of Islamic thought and political organization, Mr. Lone said. President Khatemi's reforms and his Dialogue Among Civilizations initiative at the United Nations were helping the world gain a better understanding of what Iran was trying to achieve. But outside perceptions of issues such as the role of women and the level of press freedom were not accurate in some instances, he noted.