In the wake of last week’s attack against French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the United Nations agency mandated to protect free expression today hosted at its Paris headquarters a day of reflection and held a wide-ranging debate on press freedom.
“The attack against Charlie Hebdo was an attack against freedom of expression, a pillar of this shared vision, whose flag bearers are journalists,” said Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as she opened the proceedings.
Participating in the event were members of French and international media, UNESCO Member States, opinion-makers and journalism schools. The programme was opened by Ms. Bokova and leading French cartoonist Plantu.
This event follows last week’s deadly terrorist assault on the editorial staff at Charlie Hebdo, and the subsequent hostage siege at a kosher supermarket in Paris. Seventeen people were killed in those attacks.
In her remarks, Ms. Bokova expressed alarm at the deliberate attack on journalists.
“The numbers are staggering. Every seven days, one journalist is killed for doing his or her job. Nine of ten cases go unpunished. This is simply unacceptable,” the Director-General said.
“As the United Nations agency mandated to protect freedom of expression and press freedom, UNESCO stands up every time a journalist is killed and we call for effective justice,” she said.
Today’s event included two roundtable discussions with media companies on the safety of journalists, and on the vital role played by media in nurturing public debate, promoting dialogue and building bridges.
The first discussion featured several media officials, including Swedish journalist Magnus Falkhed, Janine Di Giovani, Middle East Editor of Newsweek, Georges Malbrunot from the French daily Le Figaro, John Ralston Saul, President of PEN International, Omar Belhouchet, a journalist with El Watan and Ernest Sagaga, head of Human Rights and Safety at the International Federation of Journalists.
The second round table on “Intercultural Dialogue and Fragmented Societies” examined ways to advance respect for diversity and freedom of expression and how to build mutual understanding and tolerance across different media.
Participating in that dialogue was President of the French Constitutional Council Robert Badinter, Chief Rabbi of France Haim Korsia, the Rector of the Grand Mosque in Paris Dalil Boubakeur, and Moroccan author Tahar Ben Jelloun.
Journalism after ‘Charlie’ - day of reflection and debate on Freedom of Expression hosted at UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris, 14 January 2015. Photos: UNESCO/Fabrice Gentile
On Sunday, Ms. Bokova along with UNESCO staff participated in the 1.5 million-strong Paris solidarity march with French President Francois Holland and some 40 other heads of State and Government. Staffan de Mistura, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Envoy, represented the UN at the march and joined in expressing the Organization's revulsion for terrorism.