30.04.2010 -

Frontline journalists gather at Australia's oldest Journalism School

The challenge for those gathering to mark this year's UNESCO World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) on May 3 is to go beyond the concept of the right to information, this year's theme, to tackle the problems of journalists being killed, attacked and intimidated while doing their work.

"It's all about the reality of where journalists are," according to University of Queensland Associate Professor Martin Hadlow, the convenor of a three-day conference on freedom of information (FOI). "Freedom of information legislation is more than just a piece of paper...it's about what we expect from our news media, their independence and their freedom."


In 2009 in Doha, Qatar the annual conference focused on the importance of media in communicating across cultural differences. This year the confence theme is Freedom of Information: the Right to Know.


UNESCO selected the University of Queensland's School of Journalism and Communication as the host of WPFD 2010. Martin Hadlow said it provided an opportunity to draw together people from across the Pacific and the globe to focus on what he called the journey of FOI.


"These are people who stand up and support it every day," he said. "It will be a chance to meet people we would not normally meet and rub shoulders with those who have been on the frontline."


Mónica González Mujica, laureate of this year's UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize will be speaking at the conference.


The conference will also provide an opportunity for meetings and workshops with journalists struggling against censorship from military government, criminal attacks and retribution. Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia will be represented at pre-conference workshops such as one for women. There'll also be parallel sessions during the programme on using FOI, the experience of indigenous people and the challenges of digital media.


Other events will be held around the conference. FM Radio 94.3 will be broadcasting from the University using "Radio-in-a Box", a portable FM radio broadcasting system with potential for vital communications after disasters or in conflict situations where other communication systems have been destroyed.


On her first official visit to Australia, the new Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova will deliver a keynote address at the event. "Freedom of information" she believes, "is a fundamental human right that UNESCO is specifically mandated to promote."


University of Queensland Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Paul Greenfield adds that "media freedom in all parts of the globe is intrinsic to a flow of factual information, which is essential if we are to identify and address the world's problems."


Other speakers include Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Toby Mendel who heads Canada's Center for Law and Democracy, legal counsel David Banisar who's behind Article 19's global report, and Lisa Williams-Lahari, a Pacific journalist and media activist.


Photo exhibitions will showcase the continuing importance of photography in the digital age. Organized by the University of Queensland and Griffith University, the exhibitions will showcase works by renowned international photographers Tim Page and Hamish Cairns, alongside photographs from Viet Nam, Afghanistan and the Swat Valley in Pakistan - some not seen before.


"Editors need to be reminded of the strength of photographs and just how far they can go with pictures," said Earle Bridger from the Queensland College of Art at Griffith University.


Together, the university and its partners are planning to spark a debate which will make the expected "Brisbane Declaration" a catalyst for action in favour of press freedom and freedom of information.

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