UNESCO welcomes safe release of two French reporters in Iraq

22 December 2004

Stressing the vital role of independent media, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has welcomed the release of two French reporters taken hostage in Iraq four months ago, but at the same time has had to deplore the murder of yet another journalist - in this instance in Gambia.

"Free and independent media play an important role in the working of democracy and, in view of the forthcoming elections, it is essential that journalists, from Iraq and elsewhere, be able to work safely in the country," UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said yesterday after Christian Chesnot, a freelance journalist for Radio France and Radio France International, and Georges Mabrunot of the newspapers Le Figaro and Ouest-France, were freed.

They were captured by the Islamic Army in Iraq on 20 August. According to the International News Safety Institute (INSI) more than 60 news media personnel - journalists and support staff such as drivers and translators - have died covering the events in Iraq since last year's war.

Condemning the shooting death on 16 December of Deyda Hydara, managing editor and co-owner of Gambia' independent newspaper The Point, Mr. Matsuura saluted his longstanding commitment to freedom of the press.

"Mr Hydara devoted his professional life to press freedom as a journalist, editor and non-governmental organization activist. His death is a great loss," he said of the journalist, who was also a veteran correspondent of Agence France Presse (AFP) and of the international press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders.

It was the latest of many condemnations Mr. Matsuura has issued in recent months over the murder of journalists in various parts of the world.