In an era of rapid and often momentous change, the value of a vigorous, independent and pluralistic press is undeniable.
Over the past year and a half of transformation across the Middle East and North Africa, social media, mobile telephones and satellite television have played a central part in generating an extraordinary ripple effect: from a vegetable seller’s simple cry for human dignity to the fall of autocratic regimes and the possibility that millions of people will enjoy, for the first time, democracy and opportunities so long denied.
This role is highlighted by the theme of this year’s observance of World Press Freedom Day: New Voices: Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies.
A free press gives people access to the information they need to make critical decisions about their lives. It holds leaders accountable, exposes corruption, and promotes transparency in decision-making. It raises awareness and offers an outlet for different voices, especially those that would otherwise go unheard.
But press freedom remains fragile. Every day, journalists face dire threats as they try to carry out their work. Last year, more than 60 journalists were killed worldwide, and many more were injured. As of 1 December 2011, 179 journalists were detained, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists – an increase of 20 per cent over the year before, and the highest level since the 1990s. Countless others were silenced or censored by governments, corporations and powerful individuals. Yet impunity for those who attack or threaten journalists remains disturbingly prevalent.
I am outraged that attacks on journalists are on the rise. I call on all concerned to prevent and prosecute such violence. Defenders of a free press are safeguarding our rights and we must, in turn, ensure theirs.
In September last year, the United Nations held its first-ever inter-agency meeting devoted to the safety of journalists. The meeting produced a comprehensive Plan
of Action, and the UN system is now mobilizing to intensify our efforts to raise awareness, help Member States strengthen legal frameworks and encourage them to investigate attacks against journalists.
As we mark World Press Freedom Day, let us pledge to do our utmost to ensure that journalists can perform their work -- in new and traditional media alike -- which makes an indispensable contribution to building stronger, healthier and more peaceful societies.