04.05.2013 - UNESCOPRESS

Who will expose the hidden truths?

©UNESCO/Adriana Zúñiga

"Our goal is clear - to ensure that every journalist can exercise his profession in safety and that no crime goes unpunished". This is the declaration of principles of the Director General of UNESCO Irina Bokova, expressed at the international conference “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media”, held in Costa Rica on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day. "Freedom of expression must be equally respected in the real, as well as the digital world, where news are increasingly generated and consumed," she added. 

President of Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla, and UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, at the World Press Freedom Day reception

©UNESCO/Adriana Zúñiga

The Director General pronounced these words during the UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize award ceremony. This year the prize is given to the imprisoned Ethiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu. Her message, read by Alana Barton, a member of the International Women's Media Foundation that proposed Reeyot Alemu’s candidature, was one of the most acclaimed and emotional speeches of the day. Reeyot Alemu did not deliver it in person, as she is currently serving a five year sentence in Kality prison. The message read: "The award is not only for me, but also for all individuals and institutions that struggle for press freedom around the world [...] I am very worried for those who are labeled as terrorists and imprisoned only because they struggle for their rights in a peaceful way […]. Since the journalists are in prison, exile or trouble, who will expose the hidden truths?"

The strong symbolism of an easel with a picture of Alemu at the center of the stage made her message resonate even more strongly.

U.S. President Barack Obama was in Costa Rica on a bilateral visit during World Press Freedom Day.

At his Press Conference with President Chinchilla, he said:  "...I'm proud to be here as you host World Press Freedom Day, so everybody from the America press corp, you should thank the people of Costa Rica for celebrating free speech and independent press as essential pillars of our democracy..."  From Washington, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement in support of the Day, emphasizing the importance of free media:  "Journalists are increasingly confronted by the failure of governments to protect this freedom, and even as technology increases the possibilities for innovative expression online, the space for free media is shrinking. The United States remains firmly committed to promoting and protecting press freedom, and to supporting United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) dedication to freedom of expression across the globe."

In total, there were more than 350 delegates present at the conference in Costa Rica. They included freedom of expression activists, members of the UN, journalists, bloggers, government officials and a large number of young volunteers who transmitted, blogged, tweeted, filmed and recorded all that was happening at this UNESCO annual event. The happening in Costa Rica is at the center of a larger celebration that extends to other latitudes: Tunis, Rabat, New York and Santiago (Chile). 

©UNESCO/Adriana Zúñiga

©Francisco Mayorga
The youth newsroom

The issues discussed include freedom of expression and security of journalists. More than 600 media workers have been killed in the last ten years while reporting news to the general public. In a climate of almost total impunity, only about one in ten cases of crimes against journalists has been solved and their perpetrators prosecuted and convicted. But the conference offers much more than just the three plenary sessions, ten parallel ones and five workshops that make up the official program.

In the youth newsroom, young people of over ten nationalities coordinated by Patricia González from the Association of Journalists of Costa Rica, are busy dividing up the tasks: who will take pictures, who will upload the sound to the Soundcloud, what will be tomorrow’s cover headline for the daily newsletter distributed to all the delegates, which interviews are still left to be done... In another room, a different group of students from the United Nations University for Peace, co-organizer of the conference, is putting the final touches on the ‘minutes’ prepared after each conference session. During the break, a journalist from the Herald of Honduras newspaper is interviewing Ana Pineda, Minister of Justice and Human Rights of Honduras.  Meanwhile, a team of journalists from the Iranian channel HispanTV show an interest in getting to know the CNN en Español presenter from Costa Rica Glenda Umaña, the master of ceremonies during the UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize award celebration.

The Prize bears the name of Colombian journalist, founder of El Espectador newspaper, murdered 27 years ago. However, his former colleague Javier Dario Restrepo, reminds that journalism "is a high-risk, not a high-comfort profession," and that "a silenced journalist equals a society without a voice".

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