“Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media”
Presented by the Department of Public Information of the United Nations and
United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), UN-HQ, Conference Room#3 – NYC, May 2, 2013.
"World Press Freedom Day serves to remind us of the free,
pluralistic spirit of the independent press."
The United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI) and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) organized a briefing in commemoration of World Press Freedom Day on May 2, 2013. This year’s theme, “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media,” sought to rally global action to protect the safety of all journalists worldwide and to break the vicious cycle of impunity for crimes committed against them.
"When it is safe to speak, the whole world benefits."
Opening session started at 10:00a.m., and was moderated by Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal. Mr. Launsky-Tieffenthal opened the discussion looking at the issue of how to secure the safety of those working in the media, both online and offline, in order to promote a free, independent, and pluralistic press. He invited Secretary-General of UN Ban Ki-Moon for opening remarks. SG Ki-Moon declared that journalists face violence every day, all over the world, and that freedom of expression faces new threats constantly.
Because they help ensure transparency and accountability concerning public affairs, journalists are frequent targets of violence. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said: “When it is safe to speak, the whole world benefits.” He also noted the importance of protecting new media voices and new modes of communications that were transforming the world, helping millions of people gain, for the first time, the chance at democracy and opportunities long denied to them. In addition, he stated that journalists’ contributions are indispensible in building stronger, healthier, and more peaceful societies.
H.E. Vuk Jeremić, 67th Session President of UN General Assembly, explained the origin of World Press Freedom Day and added that the UN General Assembly designated it May 3rd in 1993. H.E. He said, “The World Press Freedom Day serves to remind us of the free, pluralistic, and independent press. It is critical in our efforts to promote human rights and good governance.”
"The contents of public information and communication should be at the very heart of the strategic plans of the UN."
Afterward, H.E. Lyutha Sultan al-Mughairy, Ambassador of the Sultanate of Oman to the United Nations and Chairperson of the General Assembly Committee on Information, pointed out that the UN remains a constant foundation of a peaceful world and that its voice must be heard in a clear and effective manner. For this reason, the contents of public information and communication should be at the very heart of the strategic plans of the UN.
Next, Mr. Launsky-Tieffenthal invited Mr. Philippe Kridelka, Director of the UNESCO office in New York and Permanent Representative to the United Nations. In Mr. Kridelka’s speech, he stated that according to UNESCO, more than 600 journalists have been killed in the past decade, many while reporting in non-conflict areas.
Impunity is also widespread, as nine out of ten cases of the killings of journalists go unpunished. He said that this can not stand, and this is why UNESCO stands up. Freedom of expression indeed means the right to express - whatever the context or how difficult the situation is.
He added that even on the 20th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, promoting freedom of expression remains as vital and challenging as ever.
Later, the President of the UN Correspondents Association and the UN Resident Correspondent for CBS News, Ms. Pamela Falk, stipulated that 2012 was the deadliest year ever for reporters. Imprisonment of journalists also increased, with over 200 journalists all around the world are in jail. And hundreds more have been forced to exile. Attacks on both female and male journalists, including sexual assaults and rape, have escaladed dramatically.
Ms. Falk mentioned Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” She stated emphatically: “We ask the UN to make 2013 the Year to Protect Journalists.”
Soon after, the panel section of the conference had begun. It was moderated by Maher Nasser, Director of the Outreach Division of DPI at the UN. He thanked the organization committee and welcomed the panelists. Mr. Nasser also celebrated hosting this program at the conference room#3 in the main building of the UN Head-Quarter for the first time after three years restoration. This was also nice surprise to the UN associated NGOS and all attendees.
The first panelist was Marcela Turati who is the Co-Founder of the journalist social network Periodistas de a Pie (Journalists on Foot) and an award-winning Mexican journalist for the magazine Presco. In 2013, Ms. Turati received the Louis M. Lyon Award, given by Nieman Fellows at Harvard University, for courageous coverage of the drug war in Mexico and her efforts to protect and train members of the media in dangerous reporting environments.
Ms. Turati outlined the life threatening issues which journalists face everyday in Mexico. She claimed that even though Mexico is not engaged in a war with other nations, that the situation is similar because of the criminal organizations and activities. Journalists die not because of crossfire, but because of the information they report on. However, the Mexican Government remains silent on the issue. Ms. Turati expressed that in Mexico, there is a need to convince the state to comply with UN Resolutions about freedom of expression.
"We need independent media and a government not to control the media."
The next panelist was Oliver Modi, a prominent South Sudanese journalist and the current Chairman of the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS). UJOSS was formed in 2004 and it is the first journalists’ union in South Sudan. The union organizes discussion forums and dialogues for journalists, government officials, and civil society members to understand the role of media in South Sudan.
Mr. Modi began his speech explaining that Southern Sudan is a country that just became a republic after years of war. He stated that media in South Sudan is functional but has not been fully granted its freedom. UJOSS is working on establishing independent media. Moreover, there is a future for media in his country if they have a proper government with continuing democracy. Mr. Modi also talked about some of the incomplete structures such as media authority and lack of journalism training. In conclusion, he declared: “We need independent media and a government not to control the media.”
Ms. Suzanne Bilello, Senior Communications and Liaison Officer at the UNESCO’s New York Office, continued on the panel. The theme of her speech was protection of journalists, implementation of a plan of action, and impunity. Ms. Bilello emphasized that the overall problem is the relationship between the press and state, and that there is a need to improve this relationship.
"Impunity is a key issue and the UN has crucial role to play against impunity."
Mr. Joel Simon spoke right after Ms. Suzanne Bilello. He is the Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Under his guidance, the CPJ launched the Global Campaign against Impunity, established a Journalist Assistance program, and spearheaded CPJ’s efforts to defend press freedom in the digital sphere. CPJ promotes press freedom worldwide and defends the right of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal. Mr. Simon noted that CPJ’s 2013 impunity index concluded that impunity is a key issue and the UN has crucial role to play against impunity.
Mr. Kerian Dwyer, Chief of Public Affairs for the UN Department of Peacekeeping and Field Support, said that in war and conflicts, all actors see the power and importance of the media as being fundamental to sustain peace. He mentioned that his organization is helping to find an answer to the question of how countries develop freedom of media culture. In many countries, the media is dominated by former warlords or strong political interests. Having independent journalism and institutions can buffer that kind of pressure. In addition, he added that whichever country his organization operates in, they are conducting a joint effort with UNESCO.
Then, the moderator of the panel, Maher Nasser, thanked the panelist members and opened the floor for questions.
First, Queen Mother Dr. Delois Blakey, representing The New Future Foundation, asked: “What role can the society play on supporting press freedom?”
Second, a Representative of Lawyers without Borders asked a question about violation of women’s rights in terms of attacks on female journalists.
Third, Bircan Unver, Founder and Permanent Representative of The Light Millennium, had a comment and question. Her comment was about the Republic of South Sudan. She said: “In Mr. Modi’s speech, he mentioned the lack of professional journalism training; I suggest that public access through the government might be a solution for this problem.” And her question was: “Is there any consideration that the freedom of expression be incorporated with the post 2015 Millennium Development Goals Agenda?”
Next, Moderator Mr. Nasser asked if “there was a gender element, and if it’s more dangerous as a woman or male journalist?”
Mr. Simon started answering questions and he stated that the majority of the journalists killed are men. And even though the number of women journalists killed are fewer than men, it is not necessarily a positive sign. His organization engaged in a systematic effort to document attacks on female journalists, and surveys showed that these attacks were often underreported and widespread.
Mr. Dwyer answered the question about how society helps to support press freedom. He stated that in most post conflict countries, media and civil society work together. He also said that the profession of journalism is very difficult because it doesn’t pay a lot of money. They also established a large radio station in Liberia in which the civil society listens and is also a part of the audience. In addition, he said that there was no media presence during the war in South Sudan.
Ms. Turati answered the question about women journalists, and she said that there are several issues women journalists face in Mexico. For example, recently 3 important women journalists were threatened because they were investigating criminal organizations. Some women are told that something would happen to herself or her children if she continued to write. When there is a woman journalist, it is a little different than from a man’s experience because the threat is not only aimed at her but at her family as well. This is why some young woman journalists don’t want to have children. She also mentioned there are some women organizations involved in to find a solution to some of those problems.
Second round of questions were asked. The Representative of the Mission of Mexico added his thoughts on the issues concerning Mexico. Naomi Chaplin, President of International Federation Collaboration, inquired about the economic issues of journalism and expressed that many educated professionals are not receiving benefits and facing economic abuse. She wanted to know how the UN will play more of a significant role to address all of these issues, and how the media and internet could play an effective role?
The first answer to the aforementioned question came from Mr. Dwyer. He stated that the internet has opened many doors today so that someone can easily gather public attention all over the world for any subject. Ms. Turati and Mr. Simon continued with their thoughts with regard to issues in Mexico.
The panel session eventually concluded with more questions about South Sudan, and then the moderator thanked the panelists and audience as the session came to an end.
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- Proofread by: Ayça BAHÇE, Volunteer of The Light Millennium