|UN NGO Briefing - Department of Public Information of the United Nations and UNESCO jointly presented.
Information and the Internet: Exploring the Role of Freedom of Information in the World Wide Web
(In Observance of World Press - Freedom Day – 3 May), United Nations, HQ, NYC, May 4, 2011.
"The free exchange of ideas and thought
can connect countries in a common course."
- Ban Ki-MOON, UN Secretary-General
Highlights and Photos by:
Idil BAYSAL, Intern, Lightmillennium.Org
When African journalists met in the capital of the newly independent state of Namibia in 1991, the social and political excitement that was sweeping much of the world in the wake of the Cold War had spread to the African Continent. Despite the toll taken by the multiple conflicts that ravaged the region in the previous decade, there was a sense of hope, expectation and a strong will among civil society to grasp this moment to craft a new future.
The Windhoek Declaration- a statement of press freedom principles-was inspired by the then global move towards democratization and the recognition that an independent, pluralistic and unfettered media was indispensable for the future of every nation aspiring to democracy and social equity. It has been 20 years since this landmark Declaration was produced by mainly newspaper journalists. Whilst there have been important advances for press freedom on the African continent and elsewhere in the world, far too many restrictions continue to exist in the form of censorship, lack of access to public information and harassment, intimidation and outright attacks on journalists, which hinder press freedom and thwart economic and political development in far too many countries.
And now, two decades after the historic the Windhoek Declaration, media is once again at the center of a new wave of change. This time however it is citizens and journalists, grasping the new tools of social connectivity and crafting messages from collective voices, clamouring for change and a role in the future of their respective nations.
Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, commenced the presentations by stating today’s briefing entitled, “Observance of World Press Freedom Day: 21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers.” World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly and was inspired by the Windhoek Declaration, a statement of principles on press freedom, drafted by African newspaper journalists at a UN/UNESCO Seminar in 1991; He also explained the significance of this year for the African people (how many African parties began moving towards democracy and Nelson Mandela was released from prison.) This is also when African journalists began pressing for pluralistic media and called for the removal of political and economic pressures on the news media, the release of jailed journalists, and new laws that would allow journalists’ associations to exist. Then, Mr. Akasaka further focused on how the people of Africa and the Middle East are demanding greater freedoms and the right to how they should be governed.
The first speaker of the panel, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-General, began talking about the consequences brought about when governments repress their people and how press freedom is the biggest tool in exposing these misdeeds. After all, when people face discrimination, access to media can give them a voice. And in an era of pressing global challenges, the free exchange of ideas and thought can connect countries in a common course. He then called attention to the roots of World Press Freedom day: A group of African journalists worked with UNESCO in Namibia, Africa, and produced the landmark Windhoek Declaration. It was this declaration the inspired the UN General Assembly to organize this observance. The Internet, blog posts, and other forms of social media are helping Africans and Middle Eastern people help spark change in their societies. More than 70 countries have enacted laws to protect the rights of citizens to various kinds of information on parliamentary and individual proceedings, to constitutional decisions, and the like. Then he turned to the challenges that co-exist with all this great change: we still see the media used to disseminate hatred, States have found them very helpful in conducting cyber-surveillance, and authorities can easily monitor what is being said and who is saying it.
Mr. Ki-Moon also presented statistical data: 6 six journalists were killed in 2010, and in 2008, more journalists working online were jailed than those working in traditional media. World Press Freedom Day will remember journalists, editors, and other media-workers for their reportings. Many men and women are in jail simply for doing their job, and today, we call for justice and freedom for those who are detained. He concluded his presentation by talking about the efforts he is going to put forward to ensure the freedom and safety of journalists. He is looking forward to upholding the principles of democracy, development, and peace.
"Over the last decade, more than 500 journalists have lost their lives in pursuing their profession, and the vast majority were local reporters."
The next speaker, Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, commenced her presentation by talking about the change in media since the Windhoek Declaration. Today, we enjoy unprecedented opportunities for exchange thanks to new technologies, more people produce and exchange information within and across national borders, and new frontiers have opened for innovative forms of expression. However, as with everything else in this world, there is a payoff: over the last decade, more than 500 journalists have lost their lives in pursuing their profession, and the vast majority were local reporters.
She tenaciously believes UNESCO’s missions are to promote freedom of expression, human dignity, and the cornerstone of democracy. UNESCO has been active in Egypt and Tunisia to support media reform, to strengthen journalism education, and to prepare for free-elections. They are supporting quality journalism in situations of conflict and natural disasters. In times of change, UNESCO’s role is also to provide a platform for debate. The media revolution has triggered sharp debates about the nature of regulation and security, and also the balance between expression and responsibility. Ms. Bokova then called on all governments to join the United Nations to guarantee and promote freedom of expression in print and online.
"No journalist, and no citizen be harassed, threatened, or killed as they attempt to do their work and reach new frontiers."
The third speaker, Mr. Zahir Tanin, the Permanent Representative to the UN for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, drew attention to the modern-day benefits of media. Today, we are able to follow, disasters, socio-political upheavals, and collective events, as they take place around the world. Governments, civil societies, and international organizations, should applaud this new era and support and uphold freedom of the press and expression. Sadly, in the process of informing other of the world around them, journalists have had to pay an “unacceptably heavy price.” He wants to ensure that no one, no journalist, and no citizen be harassed, threatened, or killed as they attempt to do their work and reach new frontiers. He wants guaranteed human rights violations do not go unpunished as we pay tribute to individuals, and media organizations who devote their lives to ascertain that all people will be educated, informed, and living in peace.
Ambassador Eduardo Ulibarri-Bilbao, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations; Chairperson, Committee on Information, discussed how the UN is a fertile ground for the celebration of expression and freedom. Beyond the Windhoek Declaration and documental conception, history shows that the flaws of intense transparent participatory, and multidirectional communication on whatever technological platform they are based are indispensable to any society when they are limited. When human beings overcome these barriers and gain momentum, they also gain possibilities of development, autonomy, participation, and opportunity.
He believes that for freedom of expression and the press to flourish, social change, democratic progress, and institution building must take place. Free pluralistic communication belongs to all citizens and should not be denied to anybody. When we make an effort to overcome technological barriers that still exist between and in countries, we must base ourselves on the respect for freedom and the recognition of the liberating power of new technologies. Mr. Ulibarri-Bilbao thinks the major task that lies ahead is how to translate aspirations into institutions and spontaneity into stable democratic processes. After all, all of us are the owners of free speech and should have a barrier-free press system.
"World Press Freedom day should not only be a day of remembrance, but also a day of struggle around the world in every “workplace and in every media.” "
Giampaolo Pioli, President of the United Nations Correspondents Association, began his presentation by reading 16 names, all of which belong to journalists that have been killed since January 2011; hundreds of photographers and bloggers are also imprisoned, and every year. Unfortunately, the number of journalists killed while carrying out their professional duties continues to incline. Censorship and repression practiced by authoritarian governments interfere with their tasks and can act as a frightening and dangerous barrier. Today, with the diffusion of the Internet, new frontiers are opening for journalists, yet at the same time, new barriers are being erected. World Press Freedom day should not only be a day of remembrance, but also a day of struggle around the world in every “workplace and in every media.”
He concluded his speech by expressing his desire for there to be no more victims, for free voices to be heard, and for people to be protected by international law.
Janis Karklins, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, UNESCO, was the moderator for the panel discussions. He opened the session by explaining that the World Press Freedom Conference in Washington (which was the main location for celebration in 2011,) adopted the Washington Declaration, which “takes the spirit of Windhoek and applies it to the opportunities and obstacles that the media faces in the 21st century.” The drafting of the document brought media experts and NGOs together, and the fully drafted document reflects challenges and potentials we face in ensuring press freedom.
New media has made it possible, more than ever before, for citizens to share their sentiments, and has allowed for activists and reformers to channel and organize those sentiments into productive and constructive action.
The first speaker of the panel, Wilfried I. Emvula, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Namibia to the United Nations, delved further into the benefits of the Windhoek declaration and how it has helped create a freedom of press. Two decades later, we still remember the roots of this day, but every time we commemorate this achievement, we still hear that the media is facing challenges and of casualties that journalists have suffered, of bannings and obstacles.
He also talked about his past as a human rights activist, and what he has done in protecting the freedom of speech and his fellow citizens. He concluded by stating that he would rather have those who can speak from experience and are more educated on this monumental topic come forward to share their opinions and convictions, rather than further address this issue.
Thierry Taponier, Journalist, France Television, talked about the disappearance of his brother Stephan, and Herve, since December 29th, 2009. The two men, along with their fellow journalists, went to the Kapisa Valley in the Northeast of Kabul to finish out an investigation that had been carried out for 3 weeks with the French army on the Afghan population, for the program incriminating evidence for France 3 Television. His brother Stephan had gone to find out what the Afghan people thought and how they felt about the current situation. When the journalists were kidnapped, they were simply doing their job and had their press cards for protection. Ever since they sought to cover war-zones independently despite the dangers and criticisms against them, the last sign of life was 6 months ago, and friends, relatives, and citizens want to promote media coverage so they can reach them and give them hope.
Everything must be done to free them and French citizens remain mobilized so they do not forget Herve and Stephan. Journalists are the key links between people and we need to give them consideration and strength – they will help change the world for the better, and bring these brave men home.
In the third part of the panel, Gwen Lister, Editor of the Namibian, talked about the Namibian independence in the 1990s: it spurred the process of change in South Africa. With Namibia’s independence facilitated in terms of UN Resolution 435, came a bill of rights and guarantees of freedom of expression. In a comprehensive summary of media in Africa 20 years on, which has been issued by the Media Institute of Southern Africa, on the occasion of Press Freedom Day this year, Professor Guy Berger aptly referred to the Windhoek Declaration as “a seminal document which came from the hearts of journalists who were commited to change the media in Africa.” This declaration ushered a new era of media, and was inspired by the Namibian example, and put the spotlight on the importance of free and independent press. Some of the more immediate gains include: the formation of the Media Institute of South Africa, the later adoption of similar declarations in other parts of the world, global acknowledgement emphasizing the importance of press freedom, a newborn optimism in the time for a more vibrant and pluralistic press in many African countries, and the acceptance of freedom of expression by the African Union in 1992.
Unfortunately, however, there still remain huge obstacles to press freedom and free speech on the African continent. The fact that the African continent has acknowledged and ratified the content of the declaration is one thing, but quite another, to see whether the leaders truly practice what they preach. It seems that for every step citizens take, two sets them back. Despite some gains, press freedom has not bid well overall, and 102 journalists have been killed on the continent from 1991 - 2011. There are new frontiers and new obstacles to the world’s media – not just Africa’s, and these challenges differ from region to region, and from country to country.
She concluded her presentation by sharing her thoughts on moving forward: Ms. Lister believes all media must be made accessible to the people as a platform for democratic debate, and urges the world community to convince governments to relinquish their ownership of media.
Alaa Abd El Fattah, Editor of Manalaa, began his segment of the panel discussion by talking about the limitations in freedom of press in Egypt. He expressed how difficult it is to talk about technologies and new social media when these limitations have proof to be completely irrelevant in the face of popular uprising. Then, he turned the discussion towards how social media has played a role in leading up to the revolution in Egypt and the Tunisia. The way in which it was most significant, was in terms of discourse; it framed information (i.e. Alaa Abd El Fattah used blogs to expose torture.) It also normalized political activism in a repressive society. He spent a brief period of time in prison back in 2006 after he smuggled blog posts from inside the prison and that completely shifted the public perception of who he was and what he was doing because it symbolized a unification.
He ended his presentation by stating his thoughts on how social media did not play a ital role during the Tahrir sit-in, but it did play a role in cooperating with more traditional media. He hopes that it will play a bigger role now, in the transition period, because there are no clear mechanisms for the transition. Therefore, a participatory platform where people can discuss the future of the country has high potential.
Sanja Tatic Kelly, Senior Researcher and Managing Editor, Freedom House, presented the findings of Freedom House’s study on Internet freedom, funded by the UN democracy fund and Google. Freedom House has been tracking the state of political rights and media freedoms since the 1970s, and over these past couple of years, it became that governments were attaining more control in manipulating media contents. She wanted to create a comprehensive fact base that would enable policy makers, scholars, and journalists to regulate and track key aspects of Internet Freedom. Her study assesses a wide range of political systems while tracking improvements and declines in the 400-page report. The project’s methodology consisted of three main categories: obstacles to access, controls and content, and users’ rights. Underneath these categories, Ms. Kelly and her team further examined the various aspects of Internet (i.e. under obstacles for Access, they looked at gender penetration and independence of the regulatory body.)
The key findings of the study identified a growing set of obstacles that pose a threat to Internet freedoms in many countries. Unfortunately the findings reflect a negative trajectory in terms of Internet freedom around the globe. She identified four areas where most of the threats have grown over the past four years:
1) Political content is increasingly blocked
2) Cyber attacks against regime critics have intensified
3) Governments are increasingly exploiting centralized infrastructure to control content of Internet
4) Online manipulation is increasingly altering available information online
She also gave examples of how governments control a coutry’s media (i.e. Burma in 2007 when the government was shut down for several days.) The Turkish government had also blocked YouTube for a few months due to hateful videos regarding their legendary leader Kemal Ataturk. Ms. Kelly closed the discussion by stating that as we see more people accessing the Internet, the more the governments want to control it, and this is a growing concern for her organization.
Graham Usher, Correspondent of Al Ahram Weekly, began by talking about his journalist life in the Middle East and South Asia. The media he dealt with includes the “dominant news” in the society that it operated in. Through all his involvement in media, he has witnessed its great rise over the past 5 years. As an independent journalist, he mentioned that one of the things he has always tried to remember, is to be heretical and look at all the sources of information he receives with a critical eye. In the coverage he has had in the mainstream media during the Arab Spring, a number of warning lights flashed up. Two of these health warnings that address his mainstream colleagues are:
1) We should not mistake an effect for a cause and
2) We shouldn’t get lazy and turn to social media for objective information.
that info is selected and tailored in a way, so we can never be 100% sure
of what we read and hear without getting a taste of bias.
Because of his time in the Middle East and South Asia, he experienced “18 Days of perfection” where he saw the beginning signs of change: the moment when the regime couldn’t rule in the old way. Social media captures that moment – history as it is being made; activists are in that first draft of history. And it is because of these activists, that we were able to see it in Benghazi, Tahrir, and Bahrain, today. That’s what social media gives us – it demonstrates when the regime starts to lose power, and it loses power when fear changes sides.
Abderrahim Foukara, Washington Bureau Manager, Al Jazeera, began by paying tribute to the people killed during 9/11 and thousands of others who lost their lives in Iraq, Pakistan, and around the world in one way or another. Then he decided to take the discussion in another direction: the events that we are seeing in the Arab world carry monumental consequences for the world at large. The Arab world is divided in reference to its diversity with the Gulf the Middle East, and North Africa. One thing that arrests his attention with regard to North Africa is that the people always put the stress on the “North” and not “Africa.” However, we must always remember that North Africa will always be a part of the continent. He said he followed what has happened in the Sub-Saharan part of North Africa over the past 20 years since the fall of Apartheid in South Africa. Now, we have people in Sub-Saharan Africa watching what’s going on in North Africa and the Middle East, because they feel they would be affected by the links they have with the North. Africa and the Arab world represent hope for a revolution, though the “revolution” in the Arab world won’t be a revolution until the change that the people in those areas attain what they want. It won’t have ultimate success until it examines the political and economic functions.
He then turned to the International Media System: he believes the Northern hemisphere has the upper hand in regulating what gets to the South; he wants the Southern Hemisphere to generate its own flow of information, which would be vital to forming its own sense of identity. We see some mutterings of this change: for example, the Al Jazeera is trying to balance the direction of the flow of information. He understands why there is so much attention around the Arab World rather than North Africa because it has always been the “cradle of civilization,” it has oil, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and Al Jazeera which has redefined communities. He wants the world has to know that Sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab World are the nexus of hope as to what happens with the World at large.
Question & Answer Session
Q: To what extent does social media make a difference and can it really make a difference? I have doubts because there seems to be an ongoing fight for those of us who push for freedom of speech and expression, and those who want to regulate the flow of information. Can we trust or hope that the new technologies of communication can make the human kind better by reduce the darker characteristics in all of us?
A: (Sanja Tatic Kelly): I share your concern and enthusiasm. I think around the world, we are seeing more and more everyday citizens taking news and spreading them; they are realizing how powerful his new medium is. Its because of the success that citizen journalists have had in terms of journalism, such as capturing torture and human rights violations, that governments are trying to suppress this development. But I am very optimistic: For example, during the time YouTube was banned in Turkey, it was still the 8th most accessed site because people were using different access techniques to fight the government regulations. Because of the inspiration and the creative nature of people, they will always come up with new ways to spread the information and the truths about their societies.
Q: How do we know who is giving us the info that we are living within and how do we know who is delivering us reality? Do we have a reason to be confused and how do we deal with this?
A: (Alaa Abd El Fattah): I think the answer is that this is not new so it doesn’t require an answer. Egypt for example, has had few years of independent press. There are key individuals in this press that are known to be working for the police lets say, or the government – and everyone knows this. They continue to exist and pretend to be civilians to continue to get a lot of air-time. How do we know that these people are who they say they are? It’s a collective process…you figure it out as a society, not as an individual. The real problem is (like in the global south) that there are millions of people who access the Internet very casually, either out of not having enough money or not having the time. That means they don’t have the luxury of engaging in debate and investigating who is a valid and who is not a valid voice. When things are happening quickly, that’s the worst time to figure out who is a reliable source. In the big picture, in the long term, we use the same tools to judge who is genuine and who is not.
A: (Abderrahim Foukara): this issue is a real problem for those of us working in television. We have done nothing but televised revolution over the last few months, and we did this “live.” When you start getting a flow of information on Twitter, Facebook, etc., you don’t have the option of perusal – because its instantaneous. You decide to develop a sense for what is accurate and what’s not. You will make mistakes in the process but we are at that point where social media has become an inseparable spouse of conventional media. What 24hr television has done is given people a platform to add more to the information they heard from social media. This strengthens your instincts that this is genuine info. But the risk of getting it wrong is always there of course.
Q: I have 2 questions: 1) Mr. Foukara, how can I watch Al Jazeera in NYC and when will it be as prominent as BBC in the US? 2) What African countries were covered in your research, Ms. Kelly?
A: (Abderrahim Foukara): One place you can watch Al Jazeera is at the UN! As you know, Jazeera English is available on Cable in the US in Ohio, Vermont, and available on NHZ in the D.C. area at certain times. But its not available on the large-scale that people would want it to be. Cable companies were more prepared to look at the commercial viability of Jazeera in the US, but others need more convincing; I think beyond 40,000 support emails is enough evidence though. The hope is that we will begin to see Jazeera on cable very soon and there are large numbers of Americans who are very enthusiastic to make this happen.
A: (Sanja Tatic Kelly): If you have an iPhone or iPad, there is a fantastic Al Jazeera application, so that’s how I get my news. In terms of my research, it covered 8 main African countries: South Africa, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Rwanda, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Tunisia. In terms of their performance in our index, South Africa and Kenya were the best in terms of the least Internet regulation, and Ethiopia and Tunisia scored the worst. Our data collection ended at the end of Dec. so it didn’t take into consideration the changes in regulation in Tunisia that took place after the revolution. In terms of Africa, some of the countries such as Nigeria and Zimbabwe, who score low in traditional media, actually score mediocre in Internet freedom because some governments (because of low internet penetration,) haven’t fully started suppressing Internet. We as an international community, have to prevent deterioration of the current situation.
Q: Since freedom of expression is part of the visions with Article 19, and we need it more than ever, it has not been included in the MDGs as one of the most fundamental human rights. I am proposing to promote freedom of expression as a part of the MDG and promoting it through the use of media. What can be done? And can you support it through the media?
This question went unanswered.
Q: My question is directed to Mr. Foukarra. Do you have the resources to get news and information from Iran, abroad?
A: (Abderrahim Foukara): You get a lot of people watching Al Jazeera in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, because of the picture narrative – EVEN if they don’t speak Arabic. In Iran, there are Arabic speaking Iranians who follow what goes on in Iraq through Al Jazeera, but there are others who know Arabic to make sure viewers in Iran don’t see things the government doesn’t want people to see. The riots following the elections 2 years ago, was a huge problem: Al Jazeerans weren’t always allowed to do their jobs and get the pictures out of Iran. For Al Jazeera crews to operate in Iran, they have to be super careful about what they say and how they report a story. We don’t have the kind of presence and organization we had in Egypt in Iran…so its safe to say the story coming out of Iran tends to be sketchy in one way or another. And I imagine if it comes out sketchy in Iran, that also means it’s a bit sketchy in English. But, that’s one of the compromises you have to make. You can’t just say, “I can’t do my job in this country, because there are too many restrictions.” Knowing a little something from the inside is better than not knowing anything at all.
Q: As far as your network is concerned, can you give me recent reportings on governments oppressing on-line media? Have you reported on government actions from Syria, Egypt, etc.? Or have you not reported on that sort of thing?
A: (Abderrahim Foukara): At the moment, reporting out of Syria and Bahrain is very difficult. Of course when events heated up in Bahrain, we had some presence there but people operating on the ground in Bahrain were hassled and prevented from doing their job. Then things started happening elsewhere so they shifted and when they tried to get back into Bahrain they were told “no.” It has been so difficult reporting out of Syria that the Al Jazeera correspondent reporting from there resigned because he couldn’t do his job in a way that satisfied the Al Jazeera and the viewers and didn’t put his life in jeopardy. We have been getting a lot of info from bloggers in Syria and videos from YouTube, but we haven’t had a way of verifying if something has happened to the people sending those stuff out from the country (whether they were jailed, killed, etc.)
Q: (To Mr. Foukara) How important was the technology that unified all the different groups when the poll was taken? Will this technology be blocked when a religious government is put into place?
A: (Alaa Abd El Fattah): I’m not as pessimistic as Usher is. There is a diff between people being conservative and voting in crazy fanatics, although the US doesn’t always prove that point. Practically speaking, we’re not going to get cut off – there might be a drive for censorship starting as a public decency kind of thing but there would be a lot of resistance to it. This has been 10 years in the making, which means we have a very highly sophisticated civil society protecting freedom of speech and expression through courts and other ways. People can organize and pressure. As for technologies, this is Egypt’s 3rd national uprising over the past 30 years, so they take different shapes, and therefore technologies also changed form. They will happen, but just take different shapes.
A: (Graham Usher): I agree with Alaa. The generation and technologies that came to the floor over the past 5 years in Egypt are irreversible. You have to consider the context in which these technologies are used. Sometimes they amplify revolutions, and sometimes they take place in a transitional period.
Q: What will be the role of social media in Sub-Saharan Africa? Will it ever achieve the same amount of global attention as North Africa and Arab countries?
A: (Abderrahim Foukara): The divide between the North and Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of technology…well, the technologies are just as available to people in North Africa as they are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Before things happened in Tunisia, people were saying the axiom in the Middle East, “if anything happens outside of Egypt, it is unlikely to happen in Egypt. But if something were to happen in Egypt, it was 100% likely to happen outside the country.” The fact that a small country with a small population in today’s world with today’s technologies, has changed many criteria. If a lot of people are going around saying “Sub-Saharan Africa, who cares?” The events in Tunisia tell us that we should care about all countries regardless of their size, etc.
Kiyo Akasaka was appointed Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information in 2007. Mr. Akasaka served as Deputy Secretary-General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development from 2003 to 2007. He was Japan's Ambassador to the UN from 2000 to 2001; and a bureau member for the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development.
As Deputy Director-General of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Multilateral Cooperation Department, Mr. Akasaka was one of Japan's senior negotiators in the Kyoto Conference on Climate Change. He has also worked with the World Health Organization and the Secretariat of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
Ban Ki-moon is the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations. His career encompasses many years of service both in government and on the global stage, including as his country's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade; postings in New Delhi, Vienna and Washington D.C.; and responsibility for a variety of portfolios, including foreign policy, national security and policy planning. Mr. Ban's ties with the United Nations date back to 1975, when he worked for the Foreign Ministry's United Nations division. In 2001-2002, he was Chef-de-Cabinet during the Republic of Korea's Presidency of the General Assembly. In 1999, he served as Chairman of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization.
Mr. Ban has also been actively involved in promoting peace and stability on the Korean peninsula. He holds a Bachelor's degree in International Relations from Seoul National University and a Master's degree in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Irina Bokova is the first woman to be elected Director-General of UNESCO. She took office on 15 November 2009 and will lead the Organization for the next four years. During her long and distinguished career, she has served in several capacities including Bulgaria's representative to the United Nations, her country's Secretary of State for European integration, as a member of the Bulgarian Parliament, Foreign Minister, Ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria to France and Monaco, Representative to the "Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie" and as Permanent Delegate to UNESCO.
As Founder and Chairperson of the European Policy Forum, Mrs. Bokova worked to overcome divisions in Europe and to promote the values of dialogue, diversity, human dignity and human rights. Born in Sofia, Ms. Bokova holds an MBA from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and has also studied at the universities of Maryland and Harvard in the USA.
H.E. Mr. Zahir Tanin serves as a Vice-President of the 65th Session of the General Assembly. He was first appointed Vice-President of the General Assembly during its 63rd Session in 2008. Before his appointment as Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Tanin worked for eleven years with the BBC: as a Television Producer from 1995 to 2000; as a Senior Producer from 2000 to 2001; as an editor for the BBC World Service Afghanistan and Central Asia [Persian Sectionjfrom 2001-2003; and prior to being assigned as permanent Representative of his country to the United Nations, and as an editor for the BBC Persian/Pashto Section (in Afghanistan) from 2003 to 2006. Ambassador Tanin, a graduate of Kabul Medical University, began his career in 1980 as a working journalist in Kabul. He was Editor-in-Chief of Akhbar-e-Haftah and Sabawoon Magazine until 1992. He co-authored The Communist Regime in Afghanistan, a study of the political and social changes in Afghanistan from 1978 to 1992. He has also produced a landmark 29-part program, The Oral History of Afghanistan in the 20th Century, which was broadcast on the BBC.
H.E. Ambassador Eduardo Ulibarri-Bilbao is the Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations, and current Chairperson for the Committee on Information. Ambassador Ulibarri has an extensive professional and academic career in communications, journalism, political analysis, freedom of expression, public transparency and governance. He served for two decades as Editor-in-Chief of Costa Rica's main newspaper. Since 2003 he has devoted most of his time to teaching, consulting, participating on the boards of a number of public and private organizations and writing for leading news media about his country and Latin America. Ambassador Ulibarri was born in Cuba in 1952, moved to Costa Rica in 1966 and became a Costa Rican citizen in 1970.
Giampaolo Pioli, the Special United Nations Correspondent for Quotidiano Nazionale, La Nazione, II Resto del Carlino and II Giorno, was elected President of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) in 2009. Before his role covering the United Nations, Mr. Pioli served as Special Correspondent for Central America from 1987 - 1992. Mr. Pioli holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Parma.
Janis Karklins is the Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information of UNESCO. Before assuming this role, Mr. Karklins served as Latvian Ambassador to France, Andorra, Monaco and UNESCO, as well as the Permanent Representative of Latvia to the United Nations in Geneva, Undersecretary of State in Latvia as well as Counselor in France and Finland. During his stay in Geneva, he served as the First Vice-Chairman, and year later as Chairman, of the Council of the International Organization for Migration (1OM). He has held several elected positions at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the UN Commission of Science and Technology for Development. He has also presided over the Group of Governmental Experts on Cluster Munitions and served as the Vice-President of the Preparatory Committee of the Geneva Phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and as President of the Preparatory Committee of the Tunis Phase of WSIS.
Mr. Karklins represented Latvia in the Governmental Advisory Committee of ICANN [The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers] and chaired this Committee from 2007 until June 2010. He holds an Engineering degree from the Riga Technical University in Latvia and attended an Executive Education Programme for Eastern European diplomats at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University in the USA.
H.E. Wilfred I. Emvula is the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Namibia to the United Nations. Mr. Emvula became Regional Councilor for the Walvis Bay Constituency in 1992 and was appointed Deputy Minister in 1993. During his earlier years he was an activist in the town of Walvis Bay, which was a disputed territory, enclaved by South Africa. He was later appointed Ambassador to France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, UNESCO and the FAO in 1999. He also represented Namibia at the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE). In 2006 he was appointed Ambassador to Ethiopia and Permanent Representative to the African Union and the United Nations Commission for Africa based in Addis Ababa. He also served as a Member of the UNESCO Committee for NEPAD [The New Partnership for Africa's Development], Ambassador Emvula is a qualified paralegal and holds a Masters Degree in Diplomacy from the University of Westminster in 2004.
Thierry Taponier, is the brother of missing journalist Stephane Taponier. On Dec. 29, 2009, French journalists Herve Ghesquiere and Stephane Taponier, along with three Afghan colleagues were captured while they were traveling in Afghanistan's Kapisa province, northeast of Kabul. Thierry Taponier has been a champion for his brother's search and rescue and has raised global awareness about missing journalists in the field. Born on October 1st, 1959 in Marseille, France, Thierry Taponier lived in the South of France for 16 years before moving to Bourg St. Maurice in Savoy, in order to pursue his studies. His passion for skiing drove him to obtain a skiing license in 1979. Deciding to change the course of his life, he moved to Montpellier in 1986, where he opened several restaurants. In 2010, he left the industry in order to devote more time to his wife and daughter, and now he works in real estate.
and now he works in real estate.
Gwen Lister, Editor of the Namibian, is a veteran journalist who staned her career in 1976 at the height of the South African occupation of Namibia (then South West Africa). As a political reporter who opposed apartheid, Lister incurred the wrath of the authorities from an early stage which culminated in harassment, arrests, death threats and attempted assassination as well as numerous court cases prior to Namibian independence in 1990. In 1985 Lister founded The Namibian newspaper, Namibia's largest and biggest selling newspaper today, to be the 'voice of the voiceless' black majority under apartheid rule and to expose the atrocities and human rights violations taking place at the time. An outspoken advocate of an independent press and media freedoms, after Namibian independence in 1990, Ms. Lister worked on a number of regional press freedom initiatives. She is a founding member of the Media Institute of Southern Africa in 1991, and a Chairperson of the UNESCO-sponsored conference in Windhoek in 1991. Ms. Lister is a recipient of a number of international awards for courage in journalism from among others, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) and an International Press Institute (IPI) Press Freedom Hero award.
Alaa Abd El Fattah, is a renowned Egyptian blogger and editor of Manalaa. He has been campaigning in Egypt for free software, free speech, human rights and political reform. His blog, manalaa.net won the Special Reporters Without Borders Award at the 2005 Deutsche Welle International Weblog Awards. Mr. Alaa, together with a group of activists, has been calling for political and judiciary reforms in his home country. At stake, in particular, is a motion to ensure that the judiciary is independent and free from pressure from the Government during elections.
Sanja Tatic Kelly is a senior researcher and managing editor at Freedom House- independent watchdog organization that supports the expansion of freedom around the world. She presently serves as the Project Director for the survey of women's rights in the Middle East and North Africa. In that capacity, she heads research, writing, and administrative operations for the project, and manages a team of over 40 international consultants based in the MENA region [A term used to describe the Middle East and North Africa region]. In recent years, Ms. Kelly has conducted extensive field research and interviewed over two hundred leading women's rights activists, public figures, and scholars in the Middle East. Ms. Kelly is frequently interviewed by U.S. and international media outlets and she is the author and editor of several articles and books examining democratic governance and women's rights. A native of Bosnia and Herzegovina, she also serves as a Balkans analyst for Freedom House publications and acts as a spokesperson for Freedom House on the issues of political development in that region.
Graham Usher, is an author and journalist who has covered the Middle East and South Asia for 20 years. From 1993 to 2005 he was the Palestine correspondent for The Economist and Middle East International. He also wrote for The Guardian, The Observer and The New Statesman. From 2005 to 2009 he was the Pakistan correspondent for Al Ahram Weekly. He has also written for Le Monde Diplomatique, The London Review of Books and broadcast for BBC radio, CBC and France 24 TV.
He is the author of Palestine in Crisis, Dispatches from Palestine, and, with John Torday, A People called Palestine. Since 2009, he has been the United Nations Correspondent for Al Ahram Weekly.
Abderrahim Foukara is the head of Al-Jazeera's United States operations in Washington D.C. He was born and raised in Morocco and later settled in the United Kingdom, where he completed a Ph.D., He joined the BBC World Service in 1990 and in the following nine years Mr. Foukara worked in various BBC departments, including the Arabic, French and African sections as well as that of journalism training, and in various capacities including producer, reporter, anchor and senior instructor. In 1999, he moved to Boston, USA, where he worked as a producer and reporter on the World, a co-production of the BBC, Public Radio International and WGBH Boston. In 2001, Abderrahim moved to Washington, D.C., where he continued to report for the BBC in London before finally joining Al-Jazeera in the Summer of 2002 as a Washington-based reporter. Early in 2003, he moved to New York where he oversaw operations in Al-Jazeera's New York Bureau United Nations office. In early 2006 Abderrahim was appointed and still serves as head of Al-Jazeera's United States operations in Washington, D.C. He also serves as host of Min Washington ('From Washington'), a weekly show on American politics and culture.