World Press Freedom Day links freedom of expression and the fight against povertySome 300 participants attending an international conference on Media, Development and Poverty Eradication here this week, today adopted the Colombo Declaration calling for freedom of the press to be recognized as a core element in development strategies.
The Declaration recognizes the important role of press freedom in the fight against all forms of poverty and exclusion. It calls on UNESCO Member States to: ensure that those responsible for attacks on media professionals are brought to justice; develop policies that help give access to, and participation in, the media to all, including people living in poverty; expand the reach of information and communication technologies to all; and ensure independent public service broadcasting that addresses issues of poverty.*
“This year, World Press Freedom Day is dedicated to the consideration of how protecting and furthering the fundamental human rights of freedom of expression and press freedom can assist in assuring another human right – the right to be free from poverty,” explained UNESCO Director-General Koďchiro Matsuura.
Representatives of professional, governmental, non governmental and inter-governmental organizations attended the conference which opened on 1 May in the presence of Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Minister of Mass Media and Information of Sri Lanka, and Mangala Samaraweera, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Ports and Aviation of Sri Lanka.
Summing up the work of the conference, Mr Matsuura said: “It is precisely through the exercise and practice of freedom of expression that the disadvantaged are enabled to recognize and claim the protection of their human rights. In this calculus of poverty eradication - discussed and elaborated during the past two days of the international conference - free and independent media are a central priority.”
The Conference ended on the eve of World Press Freedom Day, 3 May, when the Director-General was to award the 2006 UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize to Lebanese journalist May Chidiac in a ceremony held with the participation of 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 World Press Freedom Prize; and Juan Guillermo Cano, representative of the Guillermo Cano Foundation which initiated the creation of the US$25,000 UNESCO Prize in memory of the Colombian journalist Guillermo Cano, assassinated in 1987 for exposing the work of drug barons.
This year’s laureate, a popular television news journalist from Lebanon, lost her left hand and foot in the car bomb attack on 25 September 2005. The attack against Ms Chidiac closely resembled the one that claimed the life of Samir Kassir, a Lebanese journalist from the daily An Nahar, five months earlier, and the one that killed Gebran Tueni, editor of An-Nahar, in December 2005. Ms Chidiac has come to be seen as a symbol of freedom of expression in Lebanon.
The Director-General praised Ms Chidiac’s “courage and professionalism.” He also recalled that 2005 was a very bad year as far as violence against the media was concerned. Quoting statistics from the International Federation of Journalists, he pointed out that 150 media professionals were killed in the line of duty last year and that more than 500 media professionals had been detained or imprisoned.
“These data show what we all know: being a journalist is in many places a dangerous occupation, and it is getting more dangerous,” Mr Matsuura said. “These individuals deserve more than our respect and gratitude; they deserve our commitment and protection. Thus, we call on leaders throughout the world to end the culture of impunity regarding violence against journalists; to avoid policies that violently target media professionals; to investigate and punish those responsible for attacks on journalists; and to take the necessary precautions that make it possible for journalists to continue to provide us with the essential knowledge and information that flow from a free and independent press.”
UNESCO, 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 will hold next year’s main World Press Freedom Day celebration in Colombia.
*More information, including the full text of the Declaration at: www.unesco.org/webworld/wpfd/2006