Every year, World Press Freedom Day provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the principles of a free and independent press, to which all societies should aspire.
This year, as we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the event takes on added significance. Article 19 of the Declaration enshrines for the international community the individual's right to freedom of opinion and expression; the freedom to hold opinions without interference; and the free flow of information through any media regardless of frontiers.
Over the past 50 years, the world has made great advances in fostering freedom of the press. The United Nations has been a persistent advocate of such freedoms and has been instrumental in laying the legal foundations for them.
Freedom of the press ultimately implies freedom for reporters, broadcasters and editors to work without interference or coercion -- governmental, political or commercial -- in telling the true story. It means the freedom to report events or express opinions guided solely by the highest standards of professional ethics. Only then can journalists be assured of their role in sensitizing the conscience of societies and in protecting the rights of individuals in all spheres.
Modern media are primary agents of globalization in educating people about the world; in uncovering discrimination, abuses of human rights and other injustices; and in giving people throughout the world a sense that their concerns have a place on the global agenda.
The advent of new information technologies has brought about revolutionary changes in the global reach and influence of media organizations. Direct satellite broadcasting carries images from far and wide into people's homes. As living conditions improve -- and they are improving
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in many developing countries -- these audiences will expand on a massive scale. Development and democracy are closely linked, and an informed public opinion is an essential concomitant of democracy.
Many developing countries are conscious of the need to improve and strengthen their media organizations. This depends, above all, on the quality of their human resources -- on the quality of the work of their journalists and broadcasters, on the standards of professional ethics they maintain, on the credibility they command in their own countries -- indeed, on their ability to report and express their opinions freely without interference or intimidation of any kind. I welcome and encourage all efforts to foster such working conditions in all countries.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 26 journalists were murdered in 1997, while 129 were imprisoned. Over the past decade, this organization has reported the murders of 474 journalists. The statistics remind us of a grim reality that still hangs over universal application of article 19. Today, let us honour the memory of those members of the press who have fallen in their quest to bring us the news, to tell the truth and to expose injustice.
Our communities, our governments and our international relations draw vitality and direction from a free and independent press. Let us be vigilant in its defence; let us recommit ourselves on this special day to the principles of a free and independent press that advances a culture of respect for human rights, for good governance, and for social integration and development among all people.
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