United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

UNESCO hosts International Conference on Freedom of Expression and Media Development in Iraq

On 8 January UNESCO’s Director-General, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, opened the International Conference on Freedom of Expression and Media Development in Iraq, which is being held at UNESCO headquarters from 8 to 10 January 2007.

The Conference was organized by the Communications and Media Commission of Iraq (CMC) in cooperation with UNESCO and UNDP. It gathered over 180 participants, including: several members of the Iraqi parliament, among which the Chair of the Media and Cultural Committee, and former Minister of Culture, Mr Mufid Jazairi; the Chief Executive Officer of CMC, Dr Siyamend Othman; the Director of the UNDP Office in Iraq, Mr Paolo Lembo; as well as the Ambassadors of Iraq to UNESCO and to France. Also present were: senior Iraqi officials and policy makers; a large delegation of Iraqi media professionals; international NGOs and other implementing agencies; donors; and media experts from around the world.

During his opening address, Mr Matsuura highlighted that the role of the Conference was to address the vital contribution that a free media could make to reconstruction efforts within Iraq. “Our task is to examine the challenges and opportunities that exist in this regard, and to formulate an effective strategy that will help the Iraqi government create the enabling environment within which an independent media can flourish.”

The Director-General underscored the role of freedom of expression and press freedom in a democratic society, urging that “we must focus our efforts on creating a coherent and targeted strategy for promoting freedom of expression and media development in Iraq.” He requested a minute of silence to pay tribute to the men and women who had lost their lives in Iraq in the pursuit of freedom of expression.

Mr Matsuura recalled that “UNESCO, as the only agency with a mandate to defend press freedom, is deeply concerned with the issue of journalist security”. “The organization is concerned with the freedom and safety of journalists everywhere. Yet today, it turns its special attention to media needs in Iraq, and in particular to the task of helping the Iraqi government create an environment that can protect and promote free media development,” the Director-General said. Over the past two years, UNESCO has provided training on election reporting in Iraq, as well as on human rights and constitutional issues.

For his part, the Chair of the Media and Cultural Committee in Iraq, Mr Jazairi, agreed with the Director-General’s remark about the importance of ensuring an independent and pluralist media in the challenging reconstruction process of Iraq. He thanked UNESCO and its Director-General for the support and encouragement they were giving to his country.

In conclusion, Mr Matsuura stated that “it is clear that advances here can only be made through concerted action among all stakeholders. In this regard, this Conference will give specific attention to improving the coordination and effectiveness of international assistance to Iraq. We need to ensure that our support is much better harmonized and aligned with the country’s needs. I look forward to the outcomes of your deliberations, and wish to assure you that UNESCO will do its utmost to make sure that the recommendations of this Conference are translated into real action.”

“A free press is not a luxury that can wait for better times; rather, it is part of the very process through which those better times are achieved. No society can achieve stability or prosperity without access to information and the right to voice one’s opinion without fear of reprisal,” Mr Matsuura added.

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Author(s): Office of the Spokeswoman - Source: Flash Info N° 002-2007 -  Publication Date: 09-01-2007

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