Everyone has a right to information affecting their lives but too often government secrecy and a lack of accountability ensure that the public are deprived of vital facts, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today as he called for a wholesale change in attitudes towards press freedom.
Mr. Ban told a panel discussion being held at United Nations Headquarters in New York to mark the annual World Press Freedom Day that “there is a global trend towards new laws which recognize the universal right to publicly held information.
“But these new laws do not always translate into action. Requests for official information are often refused, or delayed, for years. At times, poor information management is to blame. But all too often, this happens because of a culture of secrecy and a lack of accountability.”
The Secretary-General called for efforts “to change attitudes and to raise awareness” on the importance of a free flow of information.
“People have a right to information that affects their lives,” he stressed. “States have a duty to provide this information. Such transparency is essential to good government.”
Today’s panel discussion – held in advance of World Press Freedom Day, which will be observed on Monday – considered freedom of information and the public’s right to know and was focused on South-East Asia
The Secretary-General said countries in the region had a broad spectrum of press freedom standards. Some have high standards while others are plagued by serious problems that ranged from impunity for violations to State repression.
The global picture, he noted, is bleak. Mr. Ban cited last year’s records by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) indicating that 77 journalists were murdered around the world.
“These were not high-profile war correspondents, killed in the heat of battle,” said Mr. Ban. “Most of them worked for small, local publications in peacetime. They were killed for attempting to expose wrongdoing or corruption,” he said.
He condemned the killings and demanded that the culprits be brought to justice.
“Impunity gives the green light to criminals and murderers, and empowers those who have something to hide. Over the long term, it has a corrosive and corrupting effect on society as a whole,” the Secretary-General said.
He said that around the world, there are governments and other powerful forces which seek ways to obstruct the freedom of press.
“They impose high taxes on newsprint, making newspapers so expensive that people can’t afford to buy them. Independent radio and TV stations are forced off the air if they criticize government policies. The censors are active in cyberspace too, preventing people from accessing websites for political reasons, and arresting citizen journalists,” Mr. Ban said.