World Press Freedom Day 2006 to focus on media, development and poverty eradicationMedia, Development and Poverty Eradication is the theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, 3 May, which UNESCO will observe in Colombo (Sri Lanka) with a two-day international conference on the subject and the award ceremony of the 2006 UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize to Lebanese journalist May Chidiac.
“Free and independent media should be recognized as a key dimension of efforts to eradicate poverty, [one of the Millennium Development goals adopted by the international community in 2000] for two main reasons,” explains the Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura in his message marking World Press Freedom Day. “First, free and independent media serve as a vehicle for sharing information in order to facilitate good governance, generate opportunities to gain access to essential services, promote accountability and counteract corruption, and develop the relationship between an informed, critical and participatory citizenry and responsive elected officials.”
“Second,” says the Director-General, “free and independent media are associated with a range of ‘goods’ or benefits that are highly relevant to the challenge of poverty eradication - including the recognition and strengthening of basic human rights, a stronger civil society, institutional change, political transparency, support to education, public health awareness (such as education campaigns on HIV and AIDS) and sustainable livelihoods. There is also a strong positive correlation between freedom of expression and higher incomes, lower infant mortality and increased adult literacy.”
Speakers at the opening ceremony of the conference (Bandaranaike International Conference Hall, 1 May, 9.30 a.m.) will include Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Minister of Mass Media and Information of Sri Lanka, Mogens Schmidt, Deputy UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, and Mangala Samaraweera, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Ports and Aviation of Sri Lanka. Keynote addresses on linking of freedom of the press to the alleviation of poverty will then be given by Daniel Kaufmann, Director, Global Programs and Governance, World Bank Institute, and Narasimhan Ram, Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu, India.
The conference will be divided into five sessions: The Empowerment Potential of Freedom of Expression and its Relationship with Poverty Eradication; Indicators of Poverty Alleviation through Press Freedom; Transparent, Accountable, Non-Corrupt Government; Press Freedom and Sustainable Economic Development; Access and Participation: The Community Perspective. Finally, Abdul Waheed Khan, Assistant UNESCO Director-General for Communication and Information, will moderate a session that is expected to lead to the adoption of recommendations and a framework for action proposed by the participants.
More than 200 participants from all over the world are expected. They include media professionals, representatives of development agencies, United Nations organizations, non-governmental organizations, professional media organizations and academics.
The Director-General of UNESCO will award this year’s UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize on the afternoon of World Press Freedom Day, 3 May, to May Chidiac, a popular television news presenter from Lebanon, who survived an assassination attempt on her life on 25 September 2005. Ms Chidiac who lost her left hand and foot in the car bomb attack against her, has come to be seen as a symbol of freedom of expression in Lebanon. The attack against her closely resembled the one that claimed the life of Samir Kassir, another Lebanese journalist from the daily An Nahar, five months earlier. Gebran Tueni, editor of An-Nahar, died in a similar attack in December 2005.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of Sri Lanka;; Susil Premajayantha, Minister of Education and Chairman of the Sri Lanka National Commission for UNESCO; Kavi Chongkittavorn, President of the Jury of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize-2006; and Juan Guillermo Cano, representative of the Guillermo Cano Foundation, will also participate in the award ceremony.
The US $25,000 prize UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize is awarded annually on World Press Freedom Day. It is financed by the Guillermo Cano Foundation, and James and David Ottaway - respectively a former Chairperson of the World Press Freedom Committee and a former reporter from the Washington Post.
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 East Asia and the Pacific, through the Arab Region.
UNESCO has long supported independent and pluralistic media in developing countries, countries in transition, and post conflict areas around the world. 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).
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.