Theme for 2001:
"Fighting Racism and Promoting Diversity: the role of the free press"
2001 marks the tenth anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press.
In the spirit of the Windhoek Declaration, in recognition of the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations (2001), and in support of the upcoming World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (Durban, South Africa, 31 August-7 September 2001), the theme of the 2001 observance was "Fighting Racism and Promoting Diversity: the Role of the Free Press".
World Press Freedom Day 2001 and its focus on the relationship between racism and press freedom was a reminder that with freedom came responsibility, General Assembly President Harri Holkeri said.
The observance, held in connection with the current session of the Committee on Information and organized by the Department of Public Information (DPI), also included a panel discussion. The panel’s theme, "Fighting racism and promoting diversity: the role of the free press", was chosen in light of the upcoming World Conference against Racism, to be held in Durban, South Africa, from 31 August to 7 September.
Freedom of expression, Mr. Holkeri said, should not be interpreted as the freedom to incite or promote racial hatred, discrimination or violence. At the same time, efforts to combat racism, xenophobia and related intolerance must strike a balance with the need to protect freedom of expression. Hate speech, such as hate sites on the Internet, were best countered not by censorship but by fostering free access to information, which exposed those ideas for what they were.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated that freedom of the press ensured that the abuse of every other freedom could be known, challenged and even defeated. It was important to appreciate the role that a free and vibrant press could play in bringing the horror of racism to light, and inspiring people to act on behalf of victims of racism, discrimination and bigotry of every kind. A great debt was owed to the courageous journalists who, in many cases, risked careers and lives to tell the story of injustice and discrimination.
The Deputy Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Marcio Barbosa, said the Day symbolized the commitment of the international community to defend and promote the fundamental human right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas. The most disturbing recent phenomenon was the upsurge in the worst form of censorship — physical violence against journalists. Intimidation, kidnapping, imprisonment, torture and murder of journalists were much too common. The fact that more than 750 journalists had died in the line of duty since 1985 was unacceptable and could not be tolerated by the international community.
Shashi Tharoor, Interim Head of the Department of Public Information, said the establishment of an independent press was essential to the maintenance of democracy. The press must use its freedom to awaken dormant consciences and sometimes to challenge the established order. It was ultimately the best guardian of liberty, change and progress. There was no development without democracy, and no democracy without freedom.
The Chairman of the Committee on Information, Milos Alcalay, agreed that a free, pluralistic and independent press was fundamental for a democratic society. The best weapons against racism and hegemony were freedom of expression and freedom of the press. The international community had the means to transform words into acts. Everyone must work together to achieve freedom and solidarity, which could only be done with a free press.