Freedom of the Press ‘Essential for Building a Better World for All’, Says Secretary-General at Headquarters Observance

7 May 2009

Freedom of the Press ‘Essential for Building a Better World for All’, Says Secretary-General at Headquarters Observance

7 May 2009
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the observance of World Press Freedom Day, in New York, 7 May:

It is a pleasure to join you today.

On this annual observance, we renew our pledge to freedom of the press.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees everyone the right, and I quote, “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

We must all do our utmost to uphold this right -- as a matter of principle, and because a free press is essential for building a better world for all.

I welcome the focus of this year’s observance on the media’s potential to foster dialogue, reconciliation and mutual understanding.

Indeed, the press contributes in many ways.

It gives voice to minorities and marginalized groups.

It challenges entrenched attitudes about religious, political or other differences among people.

It offers a forum for airing grievances and holding authorities to account.

And in societies recovering from armed conflict, it can promote good governance and trust between former antagonists.

This work contributes to stability and democracy, and should be encouraged.  Journalists should be able to do their job free of intimidation and harassment.  They should not have to self-censor themselves out of fear.

But, ladies and gentlemen, as we know, journalists often face grave, mortal risks.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 11 journalists have been killed in the line of duty so far this year.  Reporters without Borders puts the number even higher, at 18.

One of those journalists -- Lasantha Wickrematunge of Sri Lanka -- was awarded UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Prize for 2009 in a ceremony three days ago in Doha.  I have called on the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that those responsible for his murder are found and prosecuted.  Impunity only sets the stage for more such attacks.

Journalists are also jailed with terrible frequency.  The CPJ reports 125 journalists behind bars.  Reporters without Borders puts this number at 143.  Some have been incarcerated for years -- and some for more than a decade.  I call on these and all other Governments that have detained journalists to ensure that their rights are fully respected, including the right to appeal and defend themselves against charges.

Today there is yet another realm where these battles are being fought: the new media world of the Internet and the blogosphere.

Some Governments are trying to suppress access to the Internet, and to stifle the work of those trying to exercise their rights.  According to the CPJ, some 45 per cent of all media workers who have been jailed worldwide are bloggers.

I urge all Governments to respect the rights of these citizen journalists, who may lack the legal resources or political connections that might assist them in gaining their freedom.

At a time of economic crisis and other serious threats, it is crucial to support a free and independent media so that people can better understand the events that shape their lives and the choices they face.

Around the world, men and women continue to report on our world, at times imperilling their lives while seeking the betterment of ours.  As we join together to mark World Press Freedom Day, let us resolve to safeguard their freedom, safety and rights, which benefit us all.

I thank the Department of Public Information for organizing this gathering.  I also very much welcome the focus on Arab media later this morning.  What happens in the Arab world matters to all of us and has valuable lessons for all of us.  Our distinguished guests possess a wealth of knowledge about the media environment in which Arab journalists work -- the opportunities and potential, as well as the constraints.  I thank them for joining us and look forward to learning about the results of your discussions.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.