UN chief calls for justice and freedom for slain and detained journalists

The safety of journalists remains under threat

4 May 2011 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called for justice for journalists who have been killed because of their work and freedom for those detained, deploring impunity for those responsible for the murders and repression, as well as lack of official concern for the protection of media professionals.

“On this Day, we call for justice – and freedom for those detained,” Mr. Ban, speaking at a formal observance at UN Headquarters to mark World Press Freedom Day, which falls on 3 May each year.

“The rights to freedom of expression, information and association are not abstract principles; they are rights that States have an obligation to fulfil,” said the Secretary-General at the event, organized jointly by the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Mr. Ban praised the creative use of new media – such as the Internet, social media and blogs – by populations to bring about changes in their societies, giving the example of North Africa and the Middle East, where the Internet and social media have been used this year to mobilize action to demand democratic rights.

He cautioned that new media also have their downside in that they can be used to disseminate hatred and incite violence. Some States have also resorted to extending traditional censorship of the media to the Internet, the Secretary-General said.

“States have found them very handy as tools of cyber-surveillance. The very public nature of the new media means that authorities can easily monitor what is being said, and who is saying it,” said Mr. Ban.

He cited figures by the Committee to Protect Journalists which show that at least six of journalists killed last year worked primarily for online outlets. In 2008, there were more online media reporters in jail than those working for traditional news outlets, according to the figures.

“I attach the highest importance to press freedom and to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims the right of all people to ‘seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’,” said the Secretary-General.

“When governments repress their people, press freedom is among the most powerful vehicles for exposing misdeeds. When people face discrimination, access to media can give them voice.

“And in an era of pressing global challenges, the free exchange of information and ideas through the media can connect people and countries in networks of common cause.”

Mr. Ban also called for greater efforts to bridge the “digital divide” to enable even people who live in poorer regions to benefit from access to the new media and communications technologies.

The General Assembly also paid tribute to the reporters who have lost their lives in the course of their work and called for better protection of media professionals.

“We, the General Assembly, are constantly striving to promote the fundamental values of the United Nations Charter, and in doing so we hope we hope that our global village will continue to show unity and resolve in stating that no one, no journalist, no citizen, should be harassed, threatened or killed, as they attempt to do their work,” said the Assembly in a message delivered by its acting President, Ambassador Zahir Tanin of Afghanistan.

He said that there can be no international security and development unless human rights are respected and those who violate them punished.

Speaking at a separate luncheon to mark the Day, Kiyo Akasaka, the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said the world body is increasingly using the Internet and social media to inform and update journalists on its work, and to build informed and inclusive online communities and coalitions for change.

“As we at the United Nations move forward in modernizing our own communications, and in embracing new and social media more and more, we look forward to strengthening our partnerships with you in an effort to better inform, and engage, peoples everywhere about the aims and work of the United Nations,” said Mr. Akasaka.

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