Press freedom and the safety of journalists

In 1991, African independent journalists gathered in Windhoek, Namibia at a UNESCO seminar on the promotion of independent and pluralistic African media. In a climate of optimism, partly due to Namibia’s newfound freedom, the Windhoek Declaration was adopted: it asserted that States should be proactive in protecting journalists and advancing opportunities for citizens to exercise freedom of expression, while avoiding control of the media.

In 1993, 3 May was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly World Press Freedom Day. It has been commemorated ever since to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, to discuss key trends in press freedom around the world and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

Since 1997, the annual UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize honours a person or organization that has made an outstanding contribution to the defence of press freedom. UNESCO condemns each killing of a journalist, and presents the biannual Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity to the Intergovernmental Council of the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) since 2008.

The UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, endorsed in 2012 by the UN Chief Executives Board, is the result of a process that began upon request of the IPDC. The International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists was proclaimed in 2013.

According to UNESCO’s latest statistics, 89 per cent of crimes against journalists go unpunished. Such impunity perpetuates cycles of violence and the resulting self-censorship deprives society of information. It directly impacts the UNs’ human rights-based efforts to promote peace, security and sustainable development, particularly SDG 16, ‘to promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies’, and its target 16.10 on ensuring public access to information and protecting fundamental freedoms, on which the IPDC monitors progress. In 2018, UNESCO launched the Observatory of Killed Journalists, which gathers information on each killing and on the judicial follow-up, based on the information provided by the country in which the killing took place. The most recent of a series of UNESCO co-organized online awareness-raising campaigns was #TruthNeverDies, which reached 800 million people through social media. Every year UNESCO co-organizes capacity-building workshops for judges and prosecutors in many countries with the support of local judiciary institutions.

UNESCO takes effective measures to tackle the issue of the safety of women journalists. For instance, UNESCO inquires on specific actions taken to address safety of women journalists in its annual request to Member States regarding judicial follow-up of killings of journalists. In 2021, UNESCO released a pioneering discussion paper pointing to a sharp increase in online violence against women journalists and dissecting the orchestrated campaigns behind this toxic phenomenon
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Shaping the meaning of media development

To comply with its constitutional mandate to ‘collaborate in the work of advancing the mutual knowledge and understanding of peoples through all means of mass communication’, UNESCO produced in 1949 a study on the training of journalists, and launched the book series Press, Film and Radio in the World Today.

In 1957, UNESCO cooperated in the establishment at Strasbourg, France of the first International Centre for Higher Education in Journalism, and of a similar institution in Quito, Ecuador, in 1959. Throughout the 1960s, UNESCO’s promotion of broadcasting in the service of education and development in Asia led to the creation of numerous institutes for the development of communications. In 1972, UNESCO launched a training programme for radio and television specialists in Asia, which paved the way for the creation of the Asian Institute for Broadcasting Development. In the late 1980s, UNESCO promoted the production and marketing of Latin American audiovisual products.

The International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) was established within UNESCO in 1980. By 1982, IPDC had helped to create the Pan-African News Agency (PANA) in Dakar, Senegal – under a programme that extended to Latin American and Arab countries – and the Asian News Network (ANN) in Malaysia. The West Africa News Agencies Development (WANAD) Project was set up by UNESCO in 1984. In the 1990s, it extended to South-East and Central Africa.

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, UNESCO mobilized European radio and television organizations to identify their needs and foster cooperation. In 1989, IPDC supported the computerization of the Maghreb Arab Press Agency (MAP) and training courses for MAP’s and the Agence de Presse Tunisienne’s (APT) staff. It also helped computerize the Caribbean News Agency (CANA).

The IPDC is the only multilateral forum in the UN system designed to convene the international community to discuss and promote media development in developing countries. It has mobilized some US $120 million for over 2,000 projects in more than 140 countries.

The IPDC has endorsed specific indicators to asses media and internet policy development, with a view to identifying and addressing gaps through recommendations. It also focuses on marginalized communities, promotes gender-transformative media development, and has supported responses to urgent media development needs during the Ebola crisis, the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar and the COVID-19 pandemic.
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From the development of radio stations to community media sustainability

Radio is a powerful, low cost communication tool suited to reach remote communities and vulnerable people, while offering a platform for public debate. It also has a strong role in emergency communication and disaster relief.

UNESCO advocates for independent community media, run for and by the community. In 1956, UNESCO and India cooperated in the Radio Forum pilot project for literacy and development in 150 villages in the Poona region. Similar projects were launched in Gambia, Ghana and Senegal. By 1982, the first citizens’ FM radio station based on UNESCO’s technical design went on air from Homa Bay, Kenya. Other stations were opened in Sri Lanka in 1984 and in Niue in 1986. 1988 saw the launch of a UNESCO project to assist Radio Bhutan FM.

Today, UNESCO is focused on the development of community media to ensure media pluralism and freedom of expression. As an alternative medium to public, commercial and social media, these are characterized by their accountability to, and participation of, the communities they serve. The UNESCO Empowering Local Radio with ICTs project (2012–2018), supported by Sweden, built the capacities of 59 stations in ten African countries. Integration of ICTs improved the quality of programmes and the interaction with listeners. The geographical coverage of news improved with new networks of local correspondents, composed of trained community members. Today, the UNESCO Office in Dar es Salaam is working with community radios to raise awareness on gender-related issues. These programmes have reached more than 1 million people and have seen an increase in women’s participation.

To raise greater awareness among the public and the media of the importance of radio, UNESCO began celebrating World Radio Day in 2011. The Day was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2012.
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Convening cities to create innovative solutions

By 2030, 60 per cent of the world’s population will live in urban areas. As cities grow, their social, economic and environmental challenges equally increase. UNESCO has become a leading agency in building strong networks and platforms between cities to share good practices and create solutions to common problems.

The UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN), launched in 2004, promotes cooperation with and among cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for development. As of September 2021, the Network includes 246 cities and covers seven #elds: Crafts and Folk Art, Media Arts, Film, Design, Gastronomy, Literature and Music. Among numerous examples of collaboration, several Creative Cities of Literature celebrated the 2021 International Literacy Day together, focusing on participation in cultural activities for vulnerable and marginalized people. UNESCO has further published a diversity of culture-led responses to COVID-19 by Creative Cities, and convened an online conference to share good practices.

The International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities (ICCAR), launched by UNESCO in 2004, assists local authorities in combating discrimination in areas as diverse as education, employment, housing provision and cultural activities. It has grown to become an active global front against racism and discrimination with over 500 members across the globe, and a unique city-level platform in the UN system.

Launched in 2015, the Megacities Alliance for Water and Climate (MAWAC) is an international collaboration platform for dialogue on water to help megacities – or metropolitan areas of more than 10 million inhabitants – adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change. UNESCO serves as the Secretariat for the MAWAC The Alliance’s terms of reference are set for adoption at the EauMéga Conference in 2022.

The UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC) is an international policy-oriented network providing inspiration, know-how and best practices on promoting lifelong learning for all in urban areas and supporting the achievement of all 17 SDGs. The GNLC currently has 229 active member cities from 55 countries. Several cities in particular have been recognized for their contributions, such as Aswan, Egypt, for gardening and water-conservation programmes in schools and entrepreneurial training opportunities, and Medellín, Colombia, for successfully reintegrating over 4,650 school drop-outs.

These networks are part of the UNESCO Cities Platform, launched in 2019 to support effective implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Platform also includes the Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience network, the World Heritage Cities Programme, Media and Information Literacy Cities, and the UNESCO-Netexplo Observatory Cooperation on Smart Cities.
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