World Press Freedom Day focuses on media and good governanceMedia and Good Governance is the theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, May 3,* which UNESCO is observing in Dakar with an international conference on the subject and the award ceremony of the 2005 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.
The Conference (Meridien Hotel, 1 May to May 3) will be opened by the Prime Minister of Senegal, Macky Sall, and by UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, Abdul Waheed Khan. Leading professionals from all over the world and representatives of major international and African non-governmental as well as intergovernmental organizations will take part in the event **. Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, and Mr Alpha Oumar Konaré, President of the Commission of the African Union, will close the Conference.
Issues to be addressed in different sessions of the Conference include: The media’s direct input in promoting good governance (participation, elections, anti-corruption and the rule of law); the media and poverty; media and human rights; freedom of information and access to information; journalistic ethics and investigative journalism training. Participants are expected to adopt recommendations and a framework for action at the close of the Conference.
The UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize award ceremony, at the Daniel Sorano Theatre (3 May, 4 p.m.), will follow the close of the Conference.
Abdoulaye Wade, President of Senegal, will host the award ceremony with the participation of President Konaré and Olusegun Obasanjo, President of Nigeria. The Director-General of UNESCO will award the Prize. This year’s laureate is Chinese journalist Cheng Yizhong, chosen by an independent international jury of media professionals chaired by Kavi Chongkittavorn, executive editor of the Bangkok English-language daily The Nation.
UNESCO, as the intergovernmental organization with a constitutional mandate to “promote the free flow of ideas by word and image”, observes World Press Freedom Day to highlight the importance of press freedom and the fundamental human right of freedom of expression. UNESCO’s offices are organizing seminars and other events to mark the Day in all parts of the world, from the Caribbean and Latin America to Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Southern Africa.
In a message for the Day, the Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, explains that without freedom of expression and media freedom, “democracy cannot prevail and development remains unattainable. Independent, free and pluralistic media have a crucial role to play in the good governance of democratic societies, by ensuring transparency and accountability, promoting participation and the rule of law, and contributing to the fight against poverty.”
Not only do free and independent media act as guardians of human rights and watchdogs against abuses by authority, they also provide citizens with the information they require to exercise their democratic rights, notably in times of election. The media also disseminate information that is crucial for the life and development of communities. They have an essential contribution to make to the achievement, scheduled for 2015, of the United Nations’ Millennium Goals, including the eradication of extreme poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and combating HIV-AIDS.
UNESCO has long supported independent and pluralistic media in developing countries, countries in transition, and post conflict areas around the world and in Africa. This support has taken different forms: assistance in preparing legislation that is favourable to freedom of expression and capacity building (professional training and the development of infrastructure).
In Africa, UNESCO has helped set up a large number of community radio stations and multi-media centres and provided legislative support to countries emerging from conflict such as Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo. UNESCO has channelled more than $40 million to Africa newspapers, news agencies, and broadcasters, both public and private, through its Intergovernmental Programme for the Development of Communication, IPDC.
The celebration of World Press Freedom Day was first proposed by participants at the Seminar on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press, which UNESCO organized in Windhoek, Namibia, in 1991. UNESCO celebrated the Day in Windhoek in 2001, the first time the international celebration of the event was held in Africa.
*For more information, including the full programme and the Director-General’s message: http://www.unesco.org/webworld/wpfd/2005
** The World Association of Newspapers (WAN), Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, World Press Freedom Committee, Transparency International, West African Journalists Association (WAJA), International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the International Union of the French-language Press, Media Institute for Southern Africa (Namibia), United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations Development Programme, Panos Institute (Senegal), the Word Bank Global Network (WBGN), Article 19.