Message from UNESCO Director-General

Message by Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, on the occasion of  World Press Freedom Day, 3 May 2004.

In observing World Press Freedom Day, we draw attention to the crucial role that free, independent and pluralistic media play in the democratic process.

Respecting the media’s independence and recognizing the fundamental right of press freedom, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are essential for transparency and the rule of law. These principles are equally important in rich and poor countries alike, in times of peace and in times of war. 

The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day is the media in conflict and post-conflict zones and in countries in transition. In such situations, the media’s work to provide independent and trustworthy information can contribute significantly to processes of reconstruction and reconciliation. In times of upheaval, disorder and uncertainty, people’s need for reliable information is especially great - their ability to access provisions, and sometimes their personal safety and very survival, may depend on it. However, they tend to regard much of the information available to them through the media as propaganda. For these reasons, independent and pluralistic media are particularly important in times of war and they remain at least as crucial in the post-conflict phase. 
This year’s chosen theme is tragically fitting in view of the fatalities and injuries suffered by media professionals reporting on armed conflicts. Sadly, each year a number of journalists lose their lives in the course of pursuing their profession. It is the duty of authorities everywhere to respect the media’s right to work in conditions of reasonable safety. 

All too often, wars are self-perpetuating: conflicts generate more conflict and inevitably bring death, impoverishment and destruction in their wake. Independent and pluralistic media can make a significant contribution to breaking this vicious circle by enabling dialogue to replace armed conflict. Even when it is heated, dialogue is crucial for laying the ground for reconciliation and reconstruction. The media can provide a vital space in which different views are aired and information from different sources is openly available for public scrutiny. 
Furthermore, the correlation between press freedom and economic development has been demonstrated. This relation must be born in mind as the international community seeks to achieve the ambitious agenda of goals and targets promulgated in the Millennium Declaration. A free press is not a luxury that can wait until better times; rather, it is part of the very process through which those better times are achieved. Media freedom is important for building inclusive societies, securing respect for human rights, empowering civil society and promoting development. 

Independence does not hinge only on the capacity of private individuals to operate media outlets; it also requires a commitment to professional standards of reporting. The training of journalists is essential in post-conflict situations, which tend to affect countries with limited experience of press freedom. Such training not only can assist the new independent media but also may help to transform state-owned media into valuable public service media. 

As we celebrate World Press Freedom Day, we must reflect on ways to prevail upon governments and authorities everywhere to respect the media’s vital contribution to building sustainable peace, democracy and development. We must do all in our power to provide journalists with as much safety as possible in the exercise of their profession. On World Press Freedom Day, let us celebrate the importance of media freedom for all societies, but especially for those whose journey towards recovery, stability and peace is ongoing and beset by uncertainty. Above all, let us applaud the brave men and women who bring us the news in defiance of the risks and dangers. Their freedom to do their work is inextricably linked to the wider enjoyment of basic rights and fundamental freedoms.

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