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World Press Freedom Day
3 May

World Press Freedom Day 2000

"Reporting the News in a Dangerous World: the Role of Media in Conflict Settlement, Reconciliation and Peace-building"

All too often, the men and women whose job it was to tell the truth became the first casualties of war, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a videotaped message at the Headquarters observance of World Press Freedom Day 2000.

The observance, held in connection with the current session of the Committee on Information and organized by the Department of Public Information, included a panel discussion on "Reporting the News in a Dangerous World: the role of the media in conflict settlement, reconciliation and peace-building". The programme also celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the establishment of the Department of Public Information Training Programme for Broadcasters and Journalists from Developing Countries. Several past Programme participants were panellists.

The Secretary-General went on to say that those casualties were not accidental, but deliberate, since those who made war were often interested in suppressing the truth by killing or intimidating journalists. By preventing journalists from doing their job, they were denying their fellow citizens the right to know what was happening. The rights of journalists to carry on their work must be protected, as their freedom was "our freedom", he said.

Shashi Tharoor, Director, Communications and Special Projects in the Office of the Secretary-General, said the global reach of communication systems raised many uncomfortable questions. Underscoring the issue of unevenness in the focus of the world press, he said one only had to look at the difference in the coverage of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Mozambique and Sierra Leone. The last two received less. What explained the lack of coverage in some cases? he asked. Who made the global media in the brave new world? Was the Internet the answer? While it was seemingly a mass medium, from a global perspective it only reached a limited audience. Undue reliance on that medium could marginalize those who were out of its reach.

Following a screening of excerpts from the film "Cry Freetown", Sorious Samura, Sierra Leonean cameraman/editor, said that press freedom to him meant three things: basic security entitled to all journalists; equal respect for all journalists; and doing something about the security and respect for all journalists. What he wanted to demonstrate in the film was that journalists could be neutral and report the stories as they happened. Had it been shown earlier in the Western media, maybe events in Sierra Leone would have taken a different turn.

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