03.05.2013 - ODG

No more journalists silenced - La Nación (Costa Rica), El Comercio, Hoy (Ecuador), La Diaria, El Observador (Uruguay)

Article published on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day in La Nación (Costa Rica), El Comercio, Hoy (Ecuador), La Diaria, El Observador (Uruguay).

Today, on 3 May, UNESCO and all partners dedicated to the promotion and protection of the freedom of expression are celebrating World Press Freedom Day. The main event of this world celebration is being held this year in Costa Rica, to advance the shared goal of raising society’s awareness of the importance of the media, so crucial for human rights, development and democracy.

Freedom of expression is a basic right enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Without freedom of the press, society is deaf, blind and mute. Civil society can take key decisions only on the basis of relevant and plural information. Without the work of thousands of journalists, who often risk their lives to investigate and explain world events, citizens would be at the mercy of the powers that be and defenceless against the interests of criminal groups. Accordingly, while media workers must strive to gain and retain – and, in some cases, regain – the trust of civil society by preserving their editorial independence and providing a public-information service, the people must stand firm in their demand for free and high-quality information.

The safety of journalists is the cornerstone of this struggle, as encapsulated in “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression for All Media”, the theme of this year’s celebrations. The safety of journalists and all persons using the Internet to impart information must be ensured as a matter of urgency. The figures are alarming – more than 600 killed in the last ten years or one journalist dying per week for information.. In 2012, I spoke out, as Director-General of UNESCO, against the murder of 121 journalists, professionals who had died in the line of duty, while covering armed conflicts or while seeking information on local issues such as corruption, criminal activities or drug trafficking.

Impunity is also under the spotlight this year. According to recent data, only one in ten crimes against journalists leads to a conviction. Many journalists are intimidated, hounded and threatened with death and violence. This is intolerable.

Impunity is not only symptomatic of dysfunctions in the rule of law -- it also perpetuates a vicious circle by signalling that society must not speak about corruption, human-rights violations or environmental degradation. The results are self-censorship by journalists, silence in civil society and the sapping of public trust in the judicial system.

In order to protect journalists and end the impunity enjoyed by those who attack them, UNESCO took the lead in the historic move to draw up the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. The Plan of Action, adopted in 2012 by all United Nations bodies, is a major step forward in marshalling efforts to build a safer environment for journalists.

Action to protect the freedom of expression must cover both conventional and digital media. The Internet permits unprecedented information flows, and new technology has turned many people into “citizen journalists”. However, new technology not only facilitates, it also permits the exertion of greater control over, communication. Accordingly, if freedom of expression is to be protected amid mounting pressure to disclose user identities, conduct surveillance operations and withdraw content, the international community must consider action to be taken and the exchange of best practices. Training, infrastructure and legal-support requirements are enormous, and UNESCO stands firmly alongside its Member States to build capacity in this field.

Under all latitudes, and throughout all the events under way to mark this World Day, I appeal to all of our partners, worldwide and in Costa Rica, to allow journalists to make their voice heard.

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