– As delivered –

Video Message by H.E. Mr. Volkan Bozkir, President of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly

3 May 2021

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to speak to you today on World Press Freedom Day, which was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993. Today the freedom of the press is as relevant as it was 30 years ago. Despite the differences in the media landscape, millions around the world still do not have access to free information, impacting our health, our human rights, our democracies and our path to sustainable development. 

This year’s theme of “Information as a Public Good” is relevant to all countries, and people, around the globe. The freedom to seek, impart and receive information is a critical tool to empower people. We cannot expect people to be empowered over their own lives if they do not have access to accurate, fair, and unbiased information that draws upon a plurality of perspectives, nor if they are denied the ability to communicate, and therefore actively participate in, community life.

Indeed, freedom of expression is a fundamental human right as stated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, access to credible information has only grown in importance. This is just as true for individuals as Member States and even the United Nations. We relied on journalists across the world to keep us updated as the virus spread. We looked to the media to keep us informed as vaccines were developed. And now many journalists are raising awareness of the social and economic consequences of the pandemic.

Despite the pressing need for a free press, the pandemic has increased the threat to many small outlets around the world, who are struggling to cope with the economic fallout of the pandemic. These are sources of information we cannot afford to lose; the news media must be supported as part of our recovery efforts in recognition of the public service it provides. Policies must consider the long-term economic viability of news media in the ever-changing media landscape.

In my lifetime, the methods of information delivery have changed in unimaginable ways. We now have devices that fit in our pocket and can access an overwhelming web of information. This has truly changed the world. Yet, while the internet has become an incredible and useful tool, it can also be used with more malicious intent, helping to spread disinformation and hate speech. Many digital organisations are opaque, making it difficult to understand the flow of misinformation. It has become increasingly clear that we need to update mechanisms to ensure internet companies are transparent and accountable so the public good deriving from information is maintained.

The increasing availability of content requires a discerning reader to separate fact from fiction. And to demand the facts in the first place. We must ensure that individuals are media and information literate, so they continue to demand high quality information.

There is a path forward that allows us to continue expanding internet access and the flow of information, while also maintaining the principles of truth and reliance upon quality data that the world requires.

Dear colleagues,

Let me conclude by honouring those press workers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for press freedom. These brave men and women take unimaginable risks to keep us informed, sometimes with devastating consequences. We must do our utmost to protect these information warriors in their efforts towards the public good. 

Thank you.