The United Nations today commemorated World Press Freedom Day 2015 with a moment of silence for journalists killed in the line of duty, and drew attention to the need for greater gender equality in the media and the safety of journalists in the digital age, where protection from surveillance will become increasingly important.
In advance of World Press Freedom Day, celebrated annually on 3 May and which falls this year on Sunday, the United Nations and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) held today in New York a commemoration on this year's theme, 'Let Journalism Thrive! Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality, & Media Safety in the Digital Age.'
UN Under-Secretary-General for Public Information, Cristina Gallach, said the event “gives us an opportunity to address two vital topics, gender equality and the safety of journalists, in the digital age, where protection from surveillance will become increasingly important.”
Noting that 2015 is a historic year during which the United Nations celebrates its 70th anniversary and is “also the year when the international community must take once-in-a-generation decisions on sustainable development goals, on climate change, and on financing for development,” Ms. Gallach said: “It is a fitting to reaffirm today the relevance of the right to freedom of expression, without which we would not be able to achieve many of the goals for 2015.”
In his remarks, General Assembly President Sam Kutesa said that in 1993, the Assembly established the Day. Some 22 years later, delegations were gathered to express our utmost respect to the many courageous men and women who brave hazardous terrain and dangerous environments to tell the important stories the world needs to hear.
“These men and women go about their critical work in often inhospitable environments. From the comfort and safety of our homes and workplaces, we can learn about important issues around the world, including some dark and troubling events,” he said, stressing that journalists bridge the information gap and through that work, we learn about important discoveries and innovations shaping our world.
“Without them, we would have difficulty knowing about positive developments in the furthest corners of the world. In the same way, we would never hear the cries that are being silenced or the injustices being committed, said President Kutesa, adding: “We may never know of abuses being perpetrated, hostages being taken or lives brutally stolen.”
Noting that already this year, more than 40 journalists and media staff have been killed around the world, with many more are being held hostage or simply disappeared, he said the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clear: the freedom for all to seek, receive and impart information, regardless of borders should not be tampered with.
“I urge all Member States to do their utmost to uphold these rights for the press and media staff. We must strive to guarantee these universal standards,” he said.
On the importance of freedom of the press, Kaha Imnadze, Chairperson of the UN Committee on Information and Permanent Representative of Georgia to the UN, noted the importance of free flow of information to the functioning of the Organization, and focused on gender equality as a foundation for these purposes.
And on the issue of safety of journalists, Kahram Haliscelik of the UN Correspondents Association (UNCA) said the UN-based press corps were awaiting Security Council action on protection of journalists in conflict areas.
Speaking on the issue gender equality, George Papagiannis, Representative of the UNESCO New York Liaison Office, noted that women hold just 26 per cent of positions in media governance.
Representing the UN Secretary-General, who is travelling on official business, his Chef de Cabinet, Susana Malcorra, led an observance of a moment of silence in remembrance of journalists who had given their lives to deliver information.
Every year, May 3rd is a date which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession. World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993.
Taking part in a lively discussion on press freedom was a panel of journalists consisting of David Rohde, an investigative journalist from Thomson Reuters, and a two-time Pulitzer prize winner; Frank La Rue, the Director of the Robert F. Kennedy Centre for Human Rights Europe, and the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression; Michelle Ferrier, Associate Dean at Scripps College of Communications at Ohio University; and Nighat Dad, Director at the Digital Rights Foundation from Lahore, Pakistan via videoconference.
In a joint message on the Day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, said: “For peace to be lasting and development to be sustainable, human rights must be respected.”
“Everyone must be free to seek, receive and impart knowledge and information on all media, online and offline,” they said. “Quality journalism enables citizens to make informed decisions about their society's development. It also works to expose injustice, corruption, and the abuse of power.”