"The Media and Armed Conflict"
A free and independent press was the lifeblood of strong, functioning societies, and a lifeline to progress itself, Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette said at the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day 2003.
Addressing the observance, organized by the Department of Public Information (DPI) around the theme, "The Media and Armed Conflict", she said that, unless ideas and information could travel freely, both within frontiers and across them, peace would remain that much more elusive. Where censorship was imposed, both democracy and development were the losers.
"Uppermost in many of our minds just now must be the 14 journalists killed — and two still missing — in the war in Iraq", she said. Most journalists who died in the line of duty around the world were murdered for exposing corruption or abuses of power, for opposing entrenched interests, and, in short, for doing their jobs. The commemoration came at a moment when the press was reckoning with the complexities of its role in armed conflict, she said.
Chairman of the Committee on Information Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury (Bangladesh) said that, whether in Iraq or in the occupied Palestinian territories, South Asia or West Africa, journalists served as "our eyes and ears". Freedom of expression was neither a gift nor a political concession; it was a fundamental human right. The drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights five decades ago had been acutely aware that no society could be totally free without a free press, he said.
Speaking for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Assistant Director-General Abdul Waheed Khan said the media, in both wartime and peace, could positively contribute to providing accurate and relevant information vital for people to make well-informed choices. War, a time when the risks facing journalists were greater than usual, was the time when accurate and professional reporting was most at a premium. Whenever one journalist was exposed to violence and lost his or her voice, all citizens were deprived.
The President of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA), Tony Jenkins, drew attention to the case of a United Nations correspondent, who had been expelled by the host country before the Iraq war. He had never had a chance to speak in his own defence, however. Journalists often saw themselves as a pillar of democracy by bringing transparency to the affairs of States. That was why he was so disappointed in the United States media in the lead-up to the Iraq war. Either they had been looking for ratings, or they had allowed themselves to be manipulated. If the freedom of the press was not truly free, then it would wither.
Brief introductory remarks were also made by the Vice-President of the Museum of Television and Radio, Esther Stoneburn, who also presented a screening of a video prepared by the Museum, entitled "Media and War Coverage".
During the panel discussion that followed the opening remarks, distinguished print and broadcast journalists from media around the world examined freedom of the press in the context of the recent coverage of the war in Iraq, with particular emphasis on the practice of "embedding" journalists with troops.