Director-General awards 2009 World Press Freedom Prize in Doha, Qatar
On Sunday 3 May 2009, the Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, awarded the 2009 World Press Freedom Prize posthumously to the Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge at a ceremony in Doha, Qatar.
Also participating in the ceremony, held on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, was Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, the First Lady of Qatar and UNESCO Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education; the Qatari Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage, Dr Hamad Bin Abdulaziz Al Kuwari; and the Chairman of the Board of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom, Sheikh Hamad Bin Thamer Al Thani. Mr Wickrematunge's niece, Ms Natalie Samarasinghe, received the award on behalf of the laureate's widow, Ms Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge.
In his presentation speech, the Director-General thanked His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar and Her Highness Sheikha Mozah for hosting the award ceremony. "It is a very special occasion, as it is the first time that this important event has been held in the Arab States region", Mr Matsuura said. Mr Matsuura also thanked the sponsors of the Prize - the Cano Foundation, the Ottaway Foundation and JP/Politiken Newspaper Limited - as well as the president of the Jury, Mr Joe Thloloe, all of whom took part in the Doha ceremony.
In handing over the Prize, Mr Matsuura declared that "today we pay tribute to Lasantha Wickrematunge's struggle for freedom of expression and give thanks for the life of this remarkable journalist". He spoke of Mr Wickrematunga's extraordinary career and great personal bravery. "His brutal assassination represents a loss not only for his family, his friends and his country, but also for journalism and the universal right to freely express one's opinion," the Director-General stated.
Mr Matsuura also used his address to highlight the importance of the media in promoting dialogue, mutual understanding and reconciliation, the special theme of World Press Freedom Day 2009. "By challenging attitudes and stereotypes about other cultures, religions and peoples, the media can help to strip away the prejudices and ignorance that breed suspicion. It can promote an acceptance of difference that values diversity as an opportunity for learning and understanding," the Director-General underscored. Her Highness Sheikha Mozah also pointed in her intervention to the essential role of responsible and professional press in bridging cultural divides. "This, in my view, is the path towards achieving reconciliation among people and cultures," she said.
Immediately prior to the prize-giving ceremony, UNESCO and the Doha Centre for Media Freedom had organized a two-day international symposium on the theme of the "Potential of Media: Dialogue, Mutual Understanding and Reconciliation", which resulted in a declaration emphasizing the importance of the media in communicating across cultural differences.
While in Doha, Mr Matsuura was received by His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani. The Director-General thanked the Emir for hosting the World Press Freedom Day celebrations, highlighting the significance of holding in Doha the first prize-giving ceremony in the Arab States region. He also paid warm tribute to the work of Her Highness Sheikha Mozah in her role as UNESCO Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education, commending what he described as "her unwavering commitment to UNESCO's values", particularly in the fields of education and intercultural dialogue. Mr Matsuura drew special attention to Her Highness's strong advocacy for the protection of the right to education in conflict situations.
During his stay in the Qatar city, the Director-General had the opportunity to tour the new Museum of Islamic Art. He also visited the UNESCO Doha Office, where he talked with staff about national and regional programme activities.