The Director-General hails the importance of freedom of expression
On 29 October 2008, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, opened an international symposium on 'Freedom of Expression: Development, Democracy and Dialogue' organized at UNESCO's Headquarters to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
Participating in the Symposium were four laureates of the UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize - Lydia Cacho (2008), May Chidiac (2006), Amira Hass (2003) and Geoffrey Nyarota (2002).
In his opening remarks, the Director-General explained that UNESCO had chosen to focus its commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the UDHR on freedom of expression, placing a special emphasis on Article 19 of the Declaration. "This text has been the driver for UNESCO's actions to promote freedom of expression and freedom of the press as a basic human right", explained Mr Matsuura.
"Inspired by Article 19 and the Tunis Declaration," the Director-General continued, "UNESCO works closely with its Member States to promote national media and communication policies that respect free and independent media and access to information, in line with internationally recognized standards. Such policies are the building blocks for Development, Democracy and Dialogue, the themes for your discussions today".
Elaborating on the importance of freedom of expression for development, democracy and dialogue, the Director-General stated that "without an open space for ideas to flourish and be debated, there can be no development, no democracy, no dialogue and no lasting peace. While we have made considerable progress since the World Press Freedom Day was created in 1993, it is a source of much regret that there are still many countries around the world where, according to the indexes of entities such as Reporters Without Borders and the International Press Institute, there is no real free press, and others where that freedom is heavily compromised".
Mr Matsuura outlined UNESCO's action in monitoring the state of freedom of expression around the world. "I personally take this issue very seriously and do not hesitate to issue statements condemning abuses of journalists' rights, including murders of journalists. These are followed up by the Intergovernmental Council of the International Programme for the Development of Communication, which now monitors the investigations launched into the assassinations of journalists and other crimes against media personnel denounced in my statements".
In closing, the Director-General highlighted that freedom of expression underpins all other human rights and democratic freedoms. "Today's Symposium is an occasion to reaffirm the importance of protecting the fundamental right of freedom of expression at the time of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I hope it will have an enduring resonance as a milestone in our work to promote free and pluralistic media and to ensure the safety of journalists working throughout the world".
Mr Matsuura's opening statement was followed by an address by Lydia Cacho, this year's World Press Freedom Prize laureate, and the video messages of U Win Tin, the 2001 laureate, recently liberated after 19 years of imprisonment, and Mr Jaime Bermudez, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Colombia.
Prior to the opening of the Symposium, the Director-General participated in the inauguration of an exhibition on Press Freedom and Safety of Journalists, together with Ambassador Ringberg , Permanent Delegate of Sweden to UNESCO, and the sponsors of the UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize: Ana Maria Busquets Cano, President of the Guillermo Cano Foundation; Mr James Ottaway Jr, Director of Dow Jones & Company and Chairman Emeritus of the World Press Freedom Committee; Joergen Ejboel, Chairman of the Board of Jyllands Posten/Politiken Newspapers; as well as David Schlesinger, Editor-in Chief of Reuters. The exhibition, organized in cooperation with Reuters and with the support of Sweden, Latvia and France, will be made available to UNESCO's Member States. The Director-General expressed his hope that this traveling exhibition would be displayed in a number of countries so as to "prolong the tribute paid to journalists and testify that a free and independent press is the basis of all democratic societies".