The FINANCIAL — When governments repress their people and shield themselves from scrutiny, press freedom is among the most powerful vehicles for exposing misdeeds and upholding public trust. When people face discrimination and marginalization, access to media can give them voice and create a shared awareness of their plight.
And in an era of pressing global challenges, the free exchange of information and ideas through the media can connect people and countries in networks of common cause.
World Press Freedom Day has its roots in the African journalists who, in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the crumbling of media restrictions in Eastern Europe, sought similar advances on their continent. They worked with UNESCO to organize the 1991 seminar in Namibia that produced the landmark Windhoek Declaration on free and independent media, which in turn inspired the UN General Assembly two years later to proclaim this observance.
Today it is the peoples of North Africa and the Middle East mobilizing for their democratic rights and freedoms — and doing so with a heavy and creative reliance on the Internet and social media to help spur change in their societies.
The theme of this year’s observance, “New Frontiers, New Barriers,” highlights this dramatically changed global media landscape. New media and tools such as cell phones continue to empower individuals, enrich news-gathering and illuminate once-largely-hidden workings of government, business and industry.
Yet alongside these benefits stand old challenges such as the use of media to disseminate hatred and incite violence. There are also undeniable new barriers being imposed by States, including cyber-surveillance, digital harassment and censorship on the Internet. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least six journalists who worked primarily online were killed in 2010. And in 2008, for the first time, more “online reporters,” were in jail than those working in traditional media.
On World Press Freedom Day, let us remember the journalists, editors and other media professionals who have been killed for their reporting. And let us honour their memory by pursuing justice. The impunity that often follows such murders suggests a disturbing lack of official concern for the protection of journalists, and outright contempt for the vital role they play. Many other journalists languish in jail simply for doing their jobs.
On this Day, as we mark the 20th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration, let us also pledge to bridge the digital divide, so that all people can benefit from access to and use of new media and communication technologies.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims the right of all people to “seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. Let us reaffirm our commitment to this bedrock principle of democracy, development and peace.