UN observes World Press Freedom Day
With last year’s toll of journalists adding up to 56 killed, 19 missing and 124 jailed, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today marked World Press Freedom Day by paying tribute “to those who have fallen victim to their calling.”
“We salute the courage and dedication of journalists struggling against risk and outright brutality to exercise their right to seek and tell the truth. And we remind governments especially that the right to ‘seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media’ is enshrined in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” he said.
“Censorship, the suppression of information, intimidation and interference are a denial of democracy, an obstacle to development, and a threat to the security of all,” he added.
He noted that the UN was focusing on “hate media,” using as the most recent examples radio in Rwanda and Côte d’Ivoire, where, as in other places, “the world has seen fanatical groups fill radio airwaves and television screens with incendiary messages designed to incite.”
The third seminar of the UN Department of Public Information’s (DPI) “Unlearning Intolerance,” following seminars on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, was reflecting on how the media could protect themselves “against fanning the flames of racism and xenophobia and, instead, promote tolerance and understanding,” Mr. Annan said.
Press freedom would continue to play a central role in enlarging liberty for all and his recommendations, contained in the “In Larger Freedom” report on reforming and revitalizing the UN system, called for bold decisions by world leaders at their summit in September at UN Headquarters in New York, he said.
The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), whose mandate is to promote the free flow of ideas, was observing the Day in Dakar, Senegal, with a conference looking at the media’s role in promoting good governance, freedom of information, human rights and good journalistic ethics.
“UNESCO has decided to pay tribute to this critical role played by the media in promoting democracy and good governance by choosing ‘Media and Good Governance’ as the key theme for this year’s celebration,” UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said.
“Accurate and professional reporting is often the only recourse that society has to combat corruption,” he said. “Journalists need the support of the larger society to eliminate hindrances to accurate reporting. Furthermore, pledges to increase transparency and accountability in public administration must be backed up with laws granting full access to areas of information in the public interest.”
Such a legal framework permits independent and pluralistic media to flourish and is a pre-condition of good governance, he said.
In addition to journalists killed for exposing secrets about corruption and abuses of power, many receive death threats, and some are held hostage or tortured for doing their work, he said.
“These acts are unconscionable not only because they violate the human rights of individuals but also because they poison the well-spring of good governance and democracy, namely, the flow of accurate and reliable information,” said Mr. Matsuura, who has issued a series of denunciations of violence against reporters.
The UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize of $25,000 was won by Cheng Yizhong, the former editor of the Nanfang Dushi Bao (Southern Metropolis Daily). He was imprisoned for five months and has been barred from resuming his work after he published articles disclosing the 2003 SARS epidemic and death in a Guangzhou police station.
As part of the observance of World Press Freedom Day, DPI released a list of 10 stories that have not been adequately covered, about half of them concerning or including African issues.