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|Message Of The Director-General Of UNESCO On Occasion Of World Press Freedom Day|
UNITED NATIONS - Press Release
Following is the message of Koichiro Matsuura, the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, which is commemorated on 3 May.
"Each year on World Press Freedom Day, attention is drawn to the importance of press freedom as a prerequisite of a healthy, functioning democracy in which people are free to speak their minds. Let us recall Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that "everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers".
Without free, independent and pluralistic media, how can the public make informed electoral choices, review the public decision-making process, or have effective input into public affairs? Consequently, journalists play a vital role in the democratic process, but it is a role that may attract certain risks.
In times of war and violent conflict, the dangers facing journalists are greater than usual but these are precisely the circumstances when independent, accurate and professional reporting is at a premium. Given the pervasiveness and immediacy of modern media, we all carry in our minds fresh and vivid images of warfare, destruction and violence. We are aware, therefore, of the conditions under which journalists sometimes work and the risks to life and limb that they face. At least 274 journalists were killed in war zones between 1990 and 2002. And most recently, of course, death or injury was visited upon a number of journalists covering the war in Iraq.
On this World Press Freedom Day, we salute all those journalists whose pursuit of truth and information in circumstances of warfare takes them into harm's way. We applaud their bravery in the face of dangers that may well be life-threatening. We admire their tenacity in pursuing the facts. And we pay tribute to their professionalism in seeking to penetrate the fog of war.
The risks facing journalists are not confined to wartime, however. Translating the principle of press freedom into practice is no easy matter. Sometimes, press freedom is constrained by laws and the enforcement powers exercised by the police and the courts. Sometimes it is constrained by unlawful violence, threats and intimidation. Typically in such cases, it is journalists and other media professionals who find themselves, sometimes literally, in the line of fire. And the price they pay can be very high indeed. The statistics available from professional organizations tend to vary but the categories they use tell their own story: the number of journalists murdered, physically attacked or threatened; the number of journalists arrested and imprisoned; and the number of media outlets censored. During the past year, the global situation of press freedom appears to have deteriorated.
Behind the statistics are individual stories of courage and pain, of lives broken, of personal loss and sacrifice. Beyond the statistics are the effects on all of us when journalists, in the course of exercising their profession, are subjected to harassment, imprisonment, attack, and even murder. Such abuses cause great individual suffering but they are also a grave curtailment of freedom of expression, with all that this implies as a limitation on the enjoyment of freedoms and rights in society at large. For whenever one journalist is exposed to violence, intimidation or arbitrary detention because of his or her commitment to conveying the truth, all citizens are deprived of the right to express themselves and act according to their conscience.
The debt we collectively incur when journalists suffer on our behalf must be repaid in practical ways. At the very least, we must declare war on impunity. I therefore appeal to all governments, at all levels, to fulfill their responsibility to ensure that crimes against journalists do not go unpunished. It is essential that all violations are investigated thoroughly, that all perpetrators are prosecuted, and that all judicial systems and processes are capable of punishing those found guilty. These requirements are vital for correcting human rights abuses. Putting an end to impunity fulfils our need for justice; in addition, it will do much to prevent abuses occurring in the first place.
The right of all citizens to reliable information depends on the courage and integrity of journalists, on the fearless exercise of editorial freedom, and on the unswerving commitment of pluralistic media to the principles of journalistic freedom and independence. I appeal, therefore, to the international community and to decision-makers and citizens everywhere to do whatever you can to ensure that journalists can pursue their work unhindered and undeterred, so that people throughout the world can benefit from the free flow of ideas. For its part, UNESCO will act, whenever and wherever it is necessary, to promote the freedom, pluralism and independence of the media. We unreservedly condemn all forms of violence aimed at silencing the truth. On World Press Freedom Day 2003, our arms are locked in solidarity with all those equally committed to media freedom and freedom of expression."