Freedom and safety of journalists must be ensured, declare top UN officials

3 May 2009 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has led a chorus of United Nations officials in paying tribute to all those who work in difficult conditions to ensure the rest of the world can have access to free and unbiased information, and in stressing the need to protect their freedom and safety.

In message to mark the annual World Press Freedom Day, Mr. Ban says that attacks on journalists remain “shockingly high” in number.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 11 journalists have been killed in the line of duty so far this year. Among them was Lasantha Wickrematunge, a prominent Sri Lankan journalist assassinated in January on his way to work.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has honoured Mr. Wickrematunge posthumously with its World Press Freedom Prize for 2009, to be presented in a Press Freedom Day ceremony in Doha.

The CPJ also reports that as of 1 December 2008, 125 journalists were in prison. Some have been incarcerated for years – and some for more than a decade. Three countries – China, Cuba and Eritrea – account for half of those cases.

Mr. Ban also voices concern that some Governments are suppressing Internet access and the work of Internet-based journalists and others using “new media.”

Not surprisingly, he notes, blogging has flourished in countries where restrictions on media are toughest. Now, according to the CPJ, some 45 per cent of all media workers jailed worldwide are bloggers.

UN High Commissioner for Human Right Navi Pillay and the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, urge States to live up to their commitments to protect journalists from political interference and physical threat.

“World Press Freedom Day serves as an occasion to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom to evaluate the benefits of a free and independent press and to defend the media from attacks on their independence,” they say in a joint statement.

International recognition of the importance of journalists and the need for them to work free from unjust restrictions and the threat of violence is essential, they stress.

“We urge all States to translate their formal concerns about the safety of journalists – as elaborated in international forums and treaty law – into real, concrete measures to enhance the safety of journalists and other media personnel including at the legislative, administrative and judicial levels.

“Such protection measures must, of course, apply to all media personnel regardless of their professional or political affiliations.”

The focus of this year's Day is the potential of media in fostering dialogue, mutual understanding and reconciliation. UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura notes, in his message, that only a media that is vibrant, independent, pluralistic, inclusive and fair, editorially free and beyond censorship and influence from owners or interests can contribute to dialogue and reconciliation across divides.

“By challenging prevailing attitudes and stereotypes about other cultures, religions and peoples, the media can help to strip away the ignorance that breeds mistrust and suspicion, thus promoting tolerance and an acceptance of difference that values diversity as an opportunity for understanding,” Mr. Matsuura says.


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