"The Media as a Force for Change"
After a year in which 47 journalists were killed or injured in the line of duty, and with harassment of media professionals becoming almost routine in some countries, United Nations officials in New York marked World Press Freedom Day 2006 with a call on Governments to reaffirm their commitment to freedom of expression and to allow journalists to exercise their fundamental rights, free from threats and intimidation.
Kicking off a day of events at Headquarters, Shashi Tharoor, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said the Day reminded everyone that a free press was not only an essential human right, but a foundation of all democratic societies. Disputing the idea that journalists were simply messengers, he said that, indeed, the media possessed great power: journalism could kindle the dialogue that helped free societies to function effectively. It did that by speaking truth to power and exposing injustice, he said.
"It is tragic and unacceptable that the number of journalists killed in the line of duty has become a barometer for measuring press freedom", Mr. Tharoor said, reading out a message on the observance from Secretary-General Kofi Anan. Declaring his firm support for the universal right to freedom of expression, Mr. Annan said many members of the press had been killed, maimed, detained or targeted in other ways for pursuing that right in good conscience.
Noting that, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 47 had been killed in 2005 and 11 had lost their lives this year, he urged all Governments to reaffirm their commitment to the right to "seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers", as set out in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At the same time, he called on the media to exercise that right responsibly. "Media should not be vehicles for incitement or degradation, or for spreading hatred.
Delivering a message on behalf of General Assembly President Jan Eliasson (Sweden), Acting Assembly President Hamidon Ali (Malaysia) echoed that sentiment, noting that recent events demonstrated that with freedom, came responsibility. It might be one of the downsides of the globalized world that cartoons published in one local newspaper in one country could, just a few months' later, result in prolonged protests around the world, the loss of lives, and a lingering sense of alienation and anger on all sides, illustrating the need to strike a balance between press freedom and responsible reporting.