Wednesday 12 May 2021
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Leaders must defend free media: UN SG

….102 journalists lose lives in 2016

In a “post-truth” world with “fake news” on the rise, and media accountability and credibility falling under question, free, independent and professional journalism has never been more important, the United Nations said this week.
“We need leaders to defend a free media. This is crucial to counter prevailing misinformation. And we need everyone to stand for our right to truth,” Secretary-General António Guterres said in a message to mark World Press Freedom Day.
This year’s theme highlights media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies and builds on the theme ‘Critical Minds for Critical Times.’
The 2017 commemoration comes at a time when “free, independent and pluralistic media has never been so important to empower individual women and men, strengthen good governance and the rule of law, and take forward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural (UNESCO) said in a statement.
The agency is also tasked with defending press freedom and the safety of journalists, and is spearheading the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.
“Far too often, murder remains the most tragic form of censorship,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said in her message on the Day, noting that 102 journalists were killed in 2016.
She noted that “facing a crisis of audience identity, journalism stands before a horizon where old challenges are merging with new threats,” which include the Internet’s blurring of the lines between advertising and editorial material, businesses pushing for profits and private censorship.
In her message, Bokova cited Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colombian journalist assassinated in 1986, whose name was linked to the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.
He wrote: “Only the independence, the character, the objectivity and the good judgment of the journalist and the media can overcome the terrible storms of the new world that threaten freedom of information everywhere.”
Ms. Bokova noted those words, written two years prior to his death, “continue to resonate today, 33 years later.”
She called for “original, critical and well-researched journalism, guided by high professional, ethical standards and a quality media education” and for audiences who “have the right media and information literacy skills.”
Press Freedom is marked annually on 3 May. UNESCO’s main celebration of this year’s edition of the Day took place in Jakarta, Indonesia.
The programme of the four-day conference was designed to raise awareness of the importance of free and fact-based journalism in promoting peace and justice, and supporting the efficiency, accountability and inclusiveness of institutions, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs). The event was organized with the Government of Indonesia and the Indonesian Press Council.
During the event, Bokova awarded the 2017 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize to Dawit Isaak, the imprisoned Eritrean-born journalist who was represented by his daughter, Bethelem Isaak, during a ceremony hosted by Joko Widodo, the President of Indonesia.
In Geneva, a UN human rights expert welcomed the granting of the prize to Isaak, and urged Eritrea to free him.
“The Eritrean authorities should stop the practice of arrests and detention carried out without legal basis instantly,” said the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Sheila Keetharuth, in a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In a media statement to also mark the day, African Editors Forum (TAEF) Chairman Jovial Rantao called on African governments to do away with laws that restrict media freedom on the continent.
“The African Editors Forum reiterates its call to heads of states and governments to, as a matter of urgency, abolish all laws that restrict media freedom.
“TAEF also calls on African states to recognize the indivisibility of press freedom and their responsibility to respect their commitments to African and international protocols upholding the freedom, independence, and safety of the press,” he said.
Rantao stressed that World Press Freedom day is an important day to pay tribute to who have been incarcerated for simply doing their work.
“On this day, our thoughts go out to the many journalists and editors who are languishing in jails across the continent, simply for doing their work. One of these is Ahmed Abba, a journalist in Cameroon who was tried in a military court and handed a 10-year sentence with a hefty fine,” Rantao said.
Apart from Abba, seven other journalists in Cameroon are currently on trial and could face long term jail sentences.
More so, TAEF further noted concerns about the deteriorating state of media freedom and strongly condemned the Zambian government for intimidating journalists and editors.
“Three journalists (in Zambia) have appeared in court, charged with spurious crimes – all in an effort to intimidate them and dissuade them from telling the truth fairly and honestly.
“TAEF remains deeply concerned about media freedom violations which are taking a growing toll on African journalists. We are concerned about the deterioration of media freedom in South Sudan, Republic of Congo, Uganda, Djibouti, Burundi Nigeria, Mali and Eritrea,” lamented Rantoa.
In the same light TAEF called on African governments to recommit themselves to the Windhoek Declaration (1991) and the Declaration of Table Mountain.
With reference to the declarations, Rantao said: “Both declarations condemned, in the strongest terms, all forms of repression of African media that allows for banning of newspapers and the use of other devices such as levying import duties on newsprint and printing material as well as withholding government advertising.
“We call on African governments that have jailed journalists for their professional activities to free them immediately and to allow journalists who have been forced into exile to return to their countries” the statement further pleads.
TAEF called finally called on African states to promote the highest standards of press freedom if they are to advance the principles proclaimed in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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