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Nurturing the democratic debate.  
Joint message for World Press Freedom Day - 3 May 2002

29-04-2002 10:00 pm Paris - On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi A. Annan, UNESCO's Director-General, Ko´chiro Matsuura, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, released the following message: This year, World Press Freedom Day is devoted to the question of terrorism and media freedom. Above all, it is dedicated to those courageous journalists who put themselves at serious risk, and sometimes pay the highest penalty, by exercising their profession.

In each of the past two years, more than 50 journalists have been killed while covering violent conflicts. Increasingly, such deaths are not the result of war's accidents but the outcome of a deliberate targeting of journalists by those seeking to prevent media exposure of their criminal, corrupt or terrorist activities. The cruel fate of Daniel Pearl, to cite just one tragic case, illustrates how dangerous the profession of journalism can be.

The threat of terrorism to the freedom and independence of the media can be both direct and indirect. Terrorism all too often includes violent attacks on reporters and publishers, including assassinations, abductions, torture and bombings of media offices. We abhor such violence. Journalists have human rights like everyone else, rights which have not been forfeited because of their choice of profession.

The indirect threat of terrorism has two main aspects. First, it seeks to intimidate, to instill fear and suspicion and to silence any voices with which it disagrees - a climate inimical to the exercise of rights and freedoms. Second, terrorism may provoke governmental responses that lead to laws, regulations and forms of surveillance that undermine the very rights and freedoms that an anti-terrorism campaign is supposed to defend. Indeed, in the name of anti-terrorism, principles and values that were decades, even centuries, in the making may be put at risk.

Basic freedoms, human rights and democratic practices are the best guarantors of freedom. This protection must extend to press freedom and free speech as positive goods in themselves and as means through which the fight against terrorism may be waged. The greatest service that the media can perform in the fight against terrorism is to act freely, independently and responsibly. This means that they must neither be cowed by threats nor become a mere mouthpiece of patriotic sentiment or inflammatory opinion. Rather, the media must search for and publicize the truth; present information and views impartially; consider their words and images carefully; and uphold high standards of professional conduct. A responsible press, moreover, is a self-regulated press. The temptation to impose drastic state regulation upon the media must be resisted.

On World Press Freedom Day, we reaffirm that press freedom is an indispensable dimension of that wider freedom of expression that is each person's birthright and one of the foundations for human progress.

Kofi A. Annan
Secretary-General of the United Nations

Ko´chiro Matsuura

Mary Robinson
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Source Press Release No.2002-25

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