Message from UNESCO Director-General

Message from Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day - 3 May 2007

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World Press Freedom Day is an occasion to remind the world of the importance of protecting the fundamental human right of freedom of expression enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. With violence against media professionals constituting today one of the greatest threats to freedom of expression, I have decided to dedicate World Press Freedom Day 2007 to the theme of journalist safety.

Over the past decade, we have witnessed a dramatic escalation of violence against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel. In many countries around the world, media professionals are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered. According to professional organizations, 2006 was the bloodiest year on record with over 150 media killings. Hundreds more media workers were arrested, threatened or attacked because of their work. Being a journalist has never been more dangerous.

We know that conflict zones – and post-conflict zones – are particularly hazardous environments for journalists. The worst example is Iraq, where sixty-nine media professionals were killed last year. Over 170 media professionals, the vast majority being local journalists, have been killed in the country since the conflict began in April 2003. Never in recorded history has there been such a large-scale killing of journalists.

Those who risk their lives to provide independent and reliable information deserve our admiration, respect and support. They understand better than anyone that media contributes significantly to processes of accountability, reconstruction and reconciliation. Indeed, the growth in violence against journalist is telling, if tragic, testimony to the importance of the media to modern democracies.

The safety of journalists is an issue that affects us all. Every aggression against a journalist is an attack on our most fundamental freedoms. Press freedom and freedom of expression cannot be enjoyed without basic security. On World Press Freedom Day, therefore, we must pledge to strengthen our efforts to secure journalist safety. In particular, I call on all governments and public authorities to end the pervasive culture of impunity that surrounds violence against journalists. Governments must fulfil their responsibility to ensure that crimes against media professionals are investigated and prosecuted.

Today is also an occasion to recognize the progress that has been made in protecting press freedom. UNESCO welcomes the recent UN resolution condemning attacks against journalists in conflict situations. This resolution represents a victory for the campaign against impunity, and for those committed to protecting the independence and rights of media workers. We must exploit this momentum to build a culture of safety within media.

As we celebrate World Press Freedom Day, let us reflect on ways to propagate values that respect the media’s vital role in promoting sustainable peace, democracy and development. Let us 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.

Koïchiro Matsuura

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