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WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY 2014 - Media Freedom for a Better Future: Shaping the Post-2015 Development Agenda
Date: Thursday, 1 May 2014; Time: 10:45 a.m. – 1 p.m. - Conference Room 1 (CB), UN Headquarters New York

"Media freedoms must continue to be at the centre of our work
to promote security, dignity and prosperity for all."

Highlights by Hande SUBASILAR,
Representative to the United Nations of The Light Millennium.

UNESCO Free Press Day 2014

Background Information: In 1993, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 3 May as World Press Freedom Day following a Recommendation adopted at the twenty-sixth session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991. It serves as an occasion to inform citizens of violations of press freedom – a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered.

World Press Freedom Day is a date to encourage and develop initiatives in favor of press freedom, and to assess the state of press freedom worldwide. It serves as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. Just as importantly, it is a day of support for media which are targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom. It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

Source: UN/DPI/NGO

Media Freedom for a Better Future: Shaping the Post-2015 Development Agenda
Joint Message from Mr Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations and
Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, 3 May 2014

"This year, the international community has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to prepare a long-term agenda for sustainable development to succeed the Millennium Development Goals when they end in 2015. Successfully implementing that agenda will require that all populations enjoy the fundamental rights of freedom of opinion and expression. These rights are essential to democracy, transparency, accountability and the rule of law. They are vital for human dignity, social progress and inclusive development.

World Press Freedom Day highlights the importance of independent, free and pluralistic media to protecting and promoting these rights. Journalism provides a platform for informed discussion across a wide range of development issues – from environmental challenges and scientific progress to gender equality, youth engagement and peace building. Only when journalists are at liberty to monitor, investigate and criticize policies and actions can good governance exist.

Even as we look beyond 2015, we must confront current grave threats to press freedom around the world. In many countries journalists and other media workers face systematic obstacles to reporting the truth, ranging from censorship, arrest and imprisonment to intimidation, attacks and even assassination. These outrageous abuses show that press freedom and the human rights it underpins are extremely fragile and must be actively defended.

The United Nations General Assembly has unequivocally condemned all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers. Governments and all those with influence must now act on this condemnation by protecting journalists and other media workers. The United Nations stands ready to do its part. UN bodies are already working together and with other partners under the leadership of UNESCO to create a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers around the world.

On this World Press Freedom Day, we call on all States, societies and individuals to actively defend freedom of expression and press freedom as fundamental rights and as critical contributions to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and advancing the post-2015 development agenda."


The opening session started by brief welcoming remarks of the Moderator, Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information. He highlighted the importance of freedom of speech which helps to drive the development of society towards the achievement of the post-2015 development agenda. Then, Mr. Launsky-Tieffenthal invited the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for his opening remarks.

Free media, traditional and new, are indispensable for development,
democracy and good governance

Opening Remarks of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon:

Each year on World Press Freedom Day, we reaffirm our commitment to the fundamental freedom to receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Yet every day of the year sees this right under assault.

Journalists are singled out for speaking or writing uncomfortable truths – kidnapped, detained, beaten and sometimes murdered. Such treatment is completely unacceptable in a world ever more reliant on global news outlets and the journalists who serve them.

In conflict areas, journalists often wear blue uniforms and helmets so that they can be easily identified and protected against attack. As we know from the UN’s own peacekeeping operations, the color blue provides no guarantee of safety.

Last year 70 journalists were killed, many caught in the cross-fire of armed hostilities. Fourteen more have suffered the same fate this year.

Last year, 211 journalists were being held in prison. Some 456 journalist have been forced into exile since 2008. And since 1992, well over 1,000 journalists have been killed -- nearly one per week.

These are alarming figures. Behind each statistic stands a man or a woman simply going about their lawful business.

There must be no impunity for those who target journalists for violence, intimidation or distorted uses of legal procedures to disrupt or impede their work.

Media freedoms must continue to be at the centre of our work to promote security, dignity and prosperity for all.

Member States are deep in discussion about the post-2015 development agenda. This is a once-in-generation opportunity to steer the world in a more sustainable and equitable direction.

Free media, traditional and new, are indispensable for development, democracy and good governance. They can promote transparency about the new goals that Member States will adopt – progress as well as shortfalls. Social media and mobile technologies offer new tools for accelerating citizen participation and economic and social progress. The media’s watchdog function is essential for holding Governments, businesses and others to account.

On this World Press Freedom Day, I call on all Governments, societies and individuals to actively defend this fundamental right as critical factors in achieving the Millennium Development Goals and advancing the post-2015 development agenda.

Freedom of expression, independent media and universal access to knowledge will fortify our efforts to achieve lasting results for people and the planet.

Freedom of expression and freedom of press are first and foremost fundamental rights
and they form an essential pillar of democratic societies.

Next, H.E. Mr. John W. Ashe, President of the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, invited for his speech. H.E. Mr. Ashe indicated that, the theme of this year’s celebration “Media Freedom for a Better Future: Shaping the Post-2015 Development Agenda” comes at a critical juncture in the elaboration of the new development framework that will usher in the post-2015 era. He also mentioned as was highlighted in the recent thematic debate of the General Assembly on peaceful and stable societies, good governance, sound institutions and rule of law are essential drivers of sustainable development and in this regard, the role of a free press is critical.

Freedom of expression and freedom of press are first and foremost fundamental rights and they form an essential pillar of democratic societies. When journalists are able to report freely, they support informed citizen participation in political and social processes and promote civic engagement.

H.E. Mr. Ashe emphasized that the influence of the media, both traditional and new, can be instrumental in bringing about social change. Being well-informed is the beginning of making good choices. Journalists can contribute to shaping public opinion and behaviors and help bring about the profound changes needed to achieve our development goals. He noted that ensuring that journalists can work safely and without fear is critical to fostering a free, independent and pluralistic media. Only then can journalists give a voice to those who do not have one, tell the stories that have remained untold and contribute to open and transparent societies.
At the end of his speech H.E. Mr. Ashe said he encourages journalists to “sharpen their pencils and continue fighting the good fight.”

After H.E. Mr. John W. Ashe, H.E. Ms. Lyutha Al-Mughairy, Ambassador of the Sultanate of Oman to the United Nations and Chairperson of the General Assembly Committee on Information, took the floor for her speech. H.E. Ms. Al-Mughairy stated that the press or rather the media at large can play a valuable role to critical impediments to development such as focus of poverty and underdevelopment within that society. Although the United Nations has reaffirmed the principles of pluralism and diversity of the media, unfortunately such diversity and pluralism have yet to be attained. She cited that new technologies opened up new possibilities of information for peoples of the world. 2003 declaration of principals adopted in Geneva said “member states are fully committed to turning digital divide between developed and developing countries into the opportunity for all particularly for those who risk left behind and being further marginalized.”

H.E. Lyutha Al-Mughairy stated that the majority of the world population has been shut out of the digital revolution. It is possible to reduce the existing disparities by increasing the assistance to developing countries. She encouraged the audience to commit to diminishing the disparity in information.

Freedom of expression and freedom of media has been at the core of UNESCO’s mission

Next Ms. Vibeke Jensen, Director UNESCO Liaison Office in New York, started her speech saying “As the Millennium Development Goals come under review in 2015, the world has a new opportunity for articulating clear goals and targets – and this is why the theme of World Press Freedom Day is Media for a better future: Shaping the post 2015 development agenda.

Free, pluralistic and independent media are vital for sustainable development, to facilitate citizen participation in political processes and overall good governance, and to deepen civic engagement at all levels since its foundation, freedom of expression and freedom of media has been at the core of UNESCO’s mission.”

She also added that in November 2013, the UNESCO General Conference passed a resolution that highlights the importance of promoting three key concerns in the post-2015 agenda -- freedom of expression; universal access to knowledge and its preservation; and free, pluralistic and independent media, both offline and online.

Ms. Jensen highlighted the importance of free, pluralistic and independent news media to contribute to empowerment, through the increased ability of women and men to access and contribute to credible information representing a plurality of opinions, facts and ideas. For all of this to happen, the safety of journalists is fundamental.

Furthermore Ms. Jensen mentioned that every year, an international, independent jury of media professionals singles out an exemplary professional to receive the UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. The award this year will be presented to the Turkish investigative journalist Ahmet Şik, an ardent defender of freedom of expression who has devoted his career to denouncing corruption and human rights abuses.

Freedom of press is an inherent human right

Next, President of the United Nations Correspondents Association Ms. Pamela Falk underlined that World Press Freedom Day turns 21 this year. It is time to take adult responsibility. Therefore she thanked General Assembly not only for proclamation of world press freedom day but also focusing this year on the future of press freedom. She stated that free press is the guardian of free expression. Reporters shine a light to injustice. She underlined that freedom of press is not optional and it is not a gift; it is an inherent human right that the United Nations has an important duty to ensure freedom of expression. Therefore she called on the United Nations to include freedom of expression as a part of Post 2015 Development Goals agenda.

After Ms. Falk’s speech the opening session was concluded.

Fundamental rights of freedom of opinion and expression are
vital for human dignity, social progress and inclusive development.

The Panel Discussion part of the “Media Freedom for a Better Future: Shaping the Post-2015 Development Agenda” briefing opened by Moderator Maher Nasser, Director, Outreach Division, Department of Public Information. Next he invited Ms. Delphine Halgand, US Representative of Reporters without Borders (RWB) for her speech. Since 1985 RWB has defended journalists and freedom of information with the network of network of 150 correspondents in more than 130 countries. RWB monitors press freedom violations on a daily basis, assists journalists in emergency situations, supports independent media, advocates for their release or for media law reforms, organizes online security workshops for journalists from Kabul to New York.

Ms. Halgand quoted the words of a Burmese journalist Win Tin: “Freedom of information is the freedom that allows us to verify the existence of all other freedoms.” Inspired by these words she continued on saying “There can be no freedom without knowledge of reality. Freedom of information is a force for transparency, efficiency and accountability in state and private sector. Freedom of information has to be an integral part of the post-2015 development agenda.”

She mentioned that 71 journalists have been killed in connection with their work in 2013 and the five deadliest countries for journalists last year were Syria, Somalia, India, Pakistan, and the Philippines. There are at least 165 journalists and 160 citizen journalists imprisoned. The world’s five biggest prisons for journalists are China, Eritrea, Iran, Syria and Turkey.

Then Ms. Halgand sorted the recommendations of Reporters Without Borders as follows;

- The creation of the position of a Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General for the protection of journalists in order to monitor compliance with UN Security Council resolution 1738 and the UN General Assembly Resolution adopted last November.
- Amending the article 8 of the International Criminal Court Status to assure that deliberate attacks against journalists would be defined as “war crimes”. This amendment could be adopted in December (2014) at the Assembly of the State Parties.
- The creation of a specific alert mechanism for journalists within each UN High Commissioner for Refugees field offices.

In conclusion she indicated that UN would continue its fight for freedom of information by including freedom of information in the post-2015 development agenda.

“Hang on with each other, or they will hang next to each other.”

Next, Mr. Yehia Ghanem, International Journalist in Residence at CUNY, Graduate School of Journalism, firstly mentioned that world press freedom has reached a precarious situation in the Arab World especially in Egypt. He pointed out that speech of hate has taken control over media in Egypt, which have resulted wasting human lives. Mr. Ghanem addressed eleven of his fellow journalists were killed and over a hundred were imprisoned in recent months. His message to his fellow journalists was “hang on with each other, or they will hang next to each other.” Mr. Ghanem concluded his speech by expressing his hope to return to Egypt as a free man where he, his children and grand children would not be judged for their ideas.

Then, Editor of FrontPage Africa Newspaper Ms. Wade Williams started her speech by thanking all international organizations including the Committee to Protect Journalists, New Narratives, IPI, Syracuse University, Amnesty International and others for standing beside her newspaper FrontPage Africa last year when it shut down and its publisher was sent to jail in retaliation for their reporting on government corruption. As we celebrate Press Freedom Day, Journalists around the world continue to pay a huge price for truth telling, she said.

Ms. Williams stated it is only with vibrant and unhindered press can there be true development because it is when the media is allowed to propagate the truth unhindered, that people are educated on the dangers of war, disease and poverty. Despite this, we have strengthened our resolve to report the truth. Journalists will continue to be on the side of the people instead of governments because it is by us reminding governments of their responsibility to the governed that we can create a better world for all.

Next, Ms. Agnes Callamard, Director, Freedom of Expression and Information Project emphasized after having witnessed two peaceful decades after the end of World War II nowadays that trend is shifting. We have territorial conflict, conflict of our values and security.

Ms. Callamard mentioned that there is an emerging trend of the rule by law instead of the rule of law. Governments are currently adopting legislation to create new standards to impose further restrictions on the freedom of expression.

Afterwards the panel was concluded and the floor opened for Q&A.

Q. H.E. Eduardo Ulibarri-Bilbao, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations

H.E. Ulibarri-Bilbao shared his remarks on freedom of the press and indicated that we have to find ways to monitor the resolutions, but clearly we have two major challenges before us. One is to establish a connection between the freedom of expression and sustainable development for the Post 2015 agenda. Second important title is the internet governance and social media that engage civil society to participate more. The UN should work on guarantee the freedom of network.

Then he asked, “How they think the civil society, particularly organizations link to freedom of expression can have a positive effect on the internet governance?”

A.Delphine Halgard: The Rerporters without Borders will support Costa Rica on the next steps of the resolution.

Q. James B. from Al-Jazeeira: Three of my colleagues will appear on court again on Saturday, what message the panel sends to Egyptian authorities?

A. Yehia Ghanem: I stood 19 moths where my fellow Al-Jazeera journalists are standing now. There are more than a hundred Egyptian journalists are in prison right now. The right message to be send to the Foreign Minister Mr. Nabil Fehmi who is visiting the UN now is that they need to release not only Al-Jazeera journalists but all the journalists. I believe that will be the right step to start a reconciliation in Egypt.

. - .

For more on the UN/NGO Briefings on the Lightmillennium.Org

Posted by Bircan Unver on July 20, 2014. Updated on July 25, 2014.

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