03.05.2004 -

World Press Freedom Day in Belgrade

UNESCO marked World Press Freedom Day on May 3, with an international conference on Media in Conflict Areas and in Countries in Transition - which ended with the adoption of the Belgrade Declaration on support to the media in conflict and post-conflict situations, and the award ceremony of the UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize won this year by Cuban journalist and poet Raul Rivero.

The award ceremony in Belgrade was held in the presence of the President of Serbia and Montenegro, Svetozar Marovic, who stressed the importance of press freedom for countries in transition. "No doubt, economic development and well being are linked in great measure to the freedom of the media," he said. "It is behooves the political institutions to create such a legal framework as will ensure the freedom of the media lastingly."

 

The Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, for his part called on the Cuban authorities to release Raul Rivero, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence 450 kilometres from Havana, and who is ill with pneumonia. Mr Rivero was represented at the ceremony by his stepson, Miguel Angel Sanchez Reyes.

 

Mr Matsuura said that "despite our best efforts, we have been unable to secure the approval of the Cuban authorities to allow" Blanca Reyes Castañón, the wife of Mr Rivero, to travel and attend this ceremony. He added that Mr Rivero has been receiving medical treatment but said that "we are informed that the treatment will finish on 4th May."

 

Mr Matsuura, who is on an official visit to Serbia and Montenegro, also recalled the heavy toll paid by the media in war, and declared: "It is of utmost importance that violations of any human rights, such as freedom of expression, are adequately addressed. Freedom of expression and press freedom must be recognized as closely linked not only to key issues of development and democratization but also to conflict resolution and peace-building."

 

The Director-General further declared: "It can never be stressed enough that freedom of expression and freedom of the press are prerequisites for the participation of citizens in the democratic life of their societies, for social and economic development and for the achievement of peace. It is increasingly clear that the implementation of these principles is also essential for cultivating the intercultural understanding upon which lasting peace, security and development can be built."

 

Upon receiving the Prize on behalf of Mr Rivero, his stepson, Miguel Angel Sanchez Reyes conveyed the following words by the laureate: "What do you say? I remember that in the country of my childhood, every time a friend or a relative made a noble gesture that was favourable to me, my father and my mother would voice this disingenuous rhetorical question, 'what do you say'? 'Thank you', I would reply. Today, in jail, having heard of the UNESCO prize from Blanca, their voices haunt me - the dim voice of my mother, and the echo of my late father's voice - and they ask me again: 'What do you say?' Thank you, thank you very much, I say."

 

In his address, Mr Sanchez Reyes also quoted the 2003 laureate of the Cervantes Literary Prize, Chilean poet Gonzalo Rojas, who said "obliterating the word is like obliterating silence itself. Poetry is an exercise in intimacy. It is also the exercise of freedom. Imprisoning the word means obliterating poetry."

 

"I thank UNESCO," Mr Sanchez Reyes added, "for having chosen the person of Raul Rivero to represent all those in Cuba and throughout the world who defend the liberty of ideas and their free expression."

 

At the close of the ceremony President Marovic voiced his country's commitment in favour of press freedom and media pluralism. He recalled that "like every other great freedom, the freedom of the media was never presented to anybody on a silver platter. It has to be conquered step by step [...] History, especially recent history abounds with examples of 'great lders' losing, sooner or later, their fight against a free and critical public."

 

The UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize is awarded yearly by the Director-General of UNESCO on the recommendation of an independent international jury of media professionals headed by Oliver Clarke, Chairman and Managing Director of the Gleaner Co. Ltd. (Jamaica). The US$25,000 prize is jointly funded by UNESCO and the Guillermo Cano Foundation. Named after Colombian journalist Guillermo Cano, who was murdered in 1987 for having denounced the activities of his country's powerful drug barons, it was created by UNESCO's Executive Board in 1997, to honour the work of an individual, organization or institution defending or promoting freedom of expression anywhere in the world, especially if this puts the person's life at risk.

 

At the close of the two-day conference this afternoon, about 150 participants - journalists from all parts of the world and representatives of international and regional professional and press freedom organizations - adopted the Belgrade Declaration* on support for the media in times of conflict and in post conflict situations. The Declaration stressed that independent local news media are essential to provide trustworthy information that is vital for peace and reconciliation efforts. It also calls on the authorities to respect the freedom of media outlets in the zones they administer, including in times of conflict. The participants called on UNESCO to reinforce its coordinating role in supporting media initiatives in conflict and post conflict zones.

 

Professional issues pertaining to freedom of expression will continue to be discussed in Belgrade (at the Sava Centre) tomorrow, at a regional conference for media professionals, "Media in Post-Conflict and Transition Countries". The event is organized by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and UNESCO.

 

(Sources: UNESCO Press Release No.2004-38)




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