03.05.2007 -

UNESCO observes World Press Freedom Day 2007 in Medellin, Colombia, focusing on safety of journalists

The safety of journalists is the theme of this year's World Press Freedom Day, May 3, which UNESCO celebrates in Medellin, Colombia. The celebration consists of a two-day seminar and the award-ceremony of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize, given posthumously this year to slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

The safety of journalists is the topic of this year's World Press Freedom Day, the 10th anniversary of the creation of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. Colombia was chosen to mark this anniversary as it is the country of the newspaper publisher Guillermo Cano Isaza, after whom the World Press Freedom Prize was named. Guillermo Cano was assassinated in front of the office of his paper, El Espectador, in Bogotá, in December 1986, at the order of the drug barons he exposed in his work as a journalist.


In his message for the Day, the Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, calls for improved safety for journalists and invites us to "commemorate media professionals who have lost their lives, and honour those who bring us information despite danger and risk. Above all, let us appreciate the intimate relationship between securing the safety of journalists and realizing our own freedoms. Our ability to act as informed citizens of the world depends on a media that can work freely and safely."


The two-day seminar on press freedom, the safety of journalists and impunity, opens on 3 May (8.30 a.m.) with a tribute to Guillermo Cano and the inauguration of his bust in Medellin's Parque de Bolivar with the participation of Sergio Fajardo Valderrama, Mayor of Medellin; Ana Maria Busquets de Cano, widow of Guillermo Cano Isaza; and Abdul Waheed Khan, Assistant UNESCO Director-General for Communication and Information.


At 9.45 a.m. the official ceremony and award of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize by the Director-General of UNESCO will take place at Medellin's Plaza Mayor. Key participants in the ceremony include: Francisco Santos Calderón, Vice-President of the Republic of Colombia; Adriana Mejía, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Colombia, representatives of the Cano and Ottaway Foundations, both of which support the Prize, and Kavi Chongkittavorn, President of the independent jury of media professionals from all over the world that recommend the choice of laureate to the Director-General of UNESCO.


At 11.20, Koïchiro Matsuura, the Director-General of UNESCO, will present the Prize to Illya Politkovsky, son of Anna Politkovskaya who was murdered in Moscow in October 2006. Ms Politkovskaya was a columnist for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper and an outspoken campaigner for human rights. She was particularly well known for the hundreds of articles she published on Chechnya.


Her murder is just one tragic example of a problem that has worsened over the 21 years since the assassination of Guillermo Cano. Thus, 75 journalists and 32 media staff were killed last year, according to Reporters without Borders, making 2006 the deadliest year on record.


The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that about 580 journalists worldwide were killed in the line of duty between January 1992 and August 2006. It says that 71.4 percent of those killed were murdered, 18.4 percent died in crossfire or in circumstances related to combat and 10 percent in other dangerous assignments. Print reporters face the greatest risk of death, according to the CPJ.


According to the CPJ, 85 percent of journalist murders in the last 15 years did not give rise to investigation or prosecution. It also reports that only in seven percent of the cases that were followed by investigation, prosecution and conviction, were those who ordered the killings brought to justice.


The large number of journalists killed and the frequent impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators show the need to reinforce the commitment of the international community which adopted two decisions to fight this problem: United Nations Security Council Resolution 1738 in 2006 and the resolution adopted by UNESCO's General Conference in 1997 both condemning and seeking to limit violence against journalists.


UN Resolution 1738 reaffirms that journalists in conflict situations must enjoy the protection provided by international law. It further recalls the legal obligation of states parties to the Geneva Conventions to search and bring to trial people responsible for grave breaches against the Conventions. Similarly, the 1997 resolution adopted by UNESCO's General Conference condemns assassination and acts of violence against journalists as crimes against society and urges measures to end their impunity.


The two-day seminar, at the International Conference Hall of Medellin, will feature keynote addresses by Rafael Molina, President of the InterAmerican Press Association and Aidan White, Secretary-General of the International Federation of Journalists. It will feature the participation of media professionals from all parts of the world who will take stock of the situation and propose measures to improve the safety of journalists, notably those working in conflict situations.


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For the Director-General's message, the programme of the Day, information about the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize as well as information about the issues of safety of journalists around the world see: <a href="http://www.unesco.org/webworld/wpfd/2007">www.unesco.org/webworld/wpfd/2007</a>

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