02.05.2014 - UNESCOPRESS

Shared passions for World Press Freedom Day at UNESCO Bangkok event

“Why is press freedom important?”

It is a straightforward question, but one that provoked an exhibition’s worth of inspirational art from Asia-Pacific youth, as along with a passionate discussion among journalism professionals and advocates alike, all in the context of World Press Freedom Day.

The launch of an exhibition featuring the winners of the UNESCO Bangkok and Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand’s World Press Freedom Day Asia-Pacific Youth Poster Competition and a panel discussion on media freedoms were both part of a special event held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCCT) on 30 April.

The launch and panel discussion drew a large and diverse crowd to the Club – students taking selfies with their winning poster entries, mixed with veteran journalists, media advocates and members of the public, who are passionate about the principles of press freedom.

As Ms. Akané Nozaki, Public Information Officer with UNESCO Bangkok, noted when launching the exhibition, the organizers of the poster competition hoped to learn what press freedom means to the people who will one day be responsible for upholding its principles.

“The poster competition was aimed at engaging the region’s youth in the discussion around World Press Freedom Day and raising awareness around the crucial role a free press plays in development,” she said.

UNESCO received more than 60 high quality entries from 11 countries in the region.

Of these, 16 finalists were chosen for the exhibition by a joint UNESCO-FCCT panel.

Prim Bunsopis, 20, a design student from Bangkok’s Mahidol University, won first prize in the competition with her poster which compared truth in news reports to a full meal that is subsequently reduced to a grain of rice once it has passed through various filters.

In his second prize entry to the competition, Sakan Poomnak, 22, also a student at Mahidol, focused on the importance of press freedom in national development, a timely message as the post-2015 development agenda is under discussion. Children are shown raising the Thai flag – the flag pole anchoring it is shown as a pen.

According to Jonathan Head, FCCT president and BBC Southeast Asia correspondent, who moderated the panel discussion:

“The only healthy way to deal with [social] divisions is debate and discussion. The media can play a very important role in that, and it should be the avenue – all kinds of media, social media as well.”.”

The need to foster an environment in which journalists are safe to do their work was a major theme touched on by all three members of the discussion panel: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) Executive Director Gayathry Venkiteswaran, prominent Thai journalist and former Nation group editor Kavi Chongkittavorn and Anothai Udomsilp, Director of the Thai Public Broadcasting Service’s (Thai PBS) Academic Institute of Public Media.

Kavi and Anothai emphasized the need to better train journalists in how to protect themselves, given the reality that conflict zones, these days, are no longer restricted to distant border areas – reporters can be at great danger reporting in the heart of the city during times of tension.

The press must adapt to these challenges, partly through internal safeguards.

"I would prefer to see guidelines so that all newspapers come out with safety measures.” Kavi said. Such measures should incorporate the psychological effects that conflict reporting can have on journalists, a factor too often ignored among the country’s media.

Ms Venkiteswaran said that electionsoften presented “one of the biggest challenges for media, because it exposes the ability, the capacity and the credibility of the media” in responding to high-demand, high-intensity situations..

To this end, she referred to the December 2013 resolution which established the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. The initiative, coordinated by UNESCO, is an “overarching framework for the UN system to work together with all relevant stakeholders  to create a safe environment for journalists, media workers and social media producers and also to combat impunity for crimes against them.”

Closing the panel discussion Mr Head said that for all of the criticisms made of the press, such as increased fragmentation – “a channel for every bias” – they still play an essential role that must be respected and protected amid the rapid changes taking place across the region.

“Whatever you think about the media, the world is generally a lot worse if you don’t have them,” he said.

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