… World Press Freedom day
The United Nations will mark World Press Freedom Day today. This year’s event comes at a time when social media, mobile phones and the Internet are playing an increasing role in giving a voice to the oppressed.
As recent events in the Middle East and North Africa have shown, so-called “citizen journalists” are playing a major role.
U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Thomas C. Pierce noted that social media users are playing a starring role in the drama unfolding in the Middle East and North Africa.
In many countries in the region – including Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria – the Internet is serving as a catalyst for journalists, activists, and citizens alike to connect with each other and share their stories and calls for change with the world, he said.
“We were unplugged for five days, no Internet connection no mobile devices. We were like in a big prison in Egypt,” says Egyptian Blogger, Dalia Ziada, in explaining what it felt like when former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime switched off the power to the Internet and blocked mobile phone communications in an attempt to stifle press freedom and the freedoms of citizens to access information and assemble peacefully.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that a free press played an important roll in solving the world’s problems and gave a voice to minorities. Ban called on all governments to ensure that the rights of journalists are respected.
According to the Paris-based Reporters without Borders, 60 journalists were killed and 929 were physically attacked or threatened in 2008. Roughly 100 journalists are currently imprisoned and Ban said China, Cuba and Eritrea account for half of those cases.
Heavy-handed governments may infringe upon the rights of the press themselves or they may turn a blind eye to attacks against journalists. Ban said he was “alarmed at the way journalists are increasingly being targeted around the world, and dismayed when such crimes are not thoroughly investigated and prosecuted.”
Ban added that it was unacceptable that fear often led to journalists censoring themselves. “Journalists must be able to do their job free of intimidation and harassment,” he said. World Press Freedom Day, observed annually across the world on May 3, was established by the United Nations to celebrate the principles of press freedom and commemorate those who have fought and died trying to exercise them.
This year, the United States is partnering with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to host the global commemoration of World Press Freedom Day for the first time in Washington, D.C.
This year’s theme could not be more prescient: “21st Century Media — New Media, New Barriers.” The establishment and fostering of an independent, pluralistic, and free press is essential to the development of civil societies and democracies across the globe.
“When a free media is in jeopardy,” Secretary Hillary Clinton has said, “all other human rights are also threatened. So in that spirit, let us continue to champion those who stand for media freedom – and expose those who would deny it. And let us always work toward a world where the free flow of information and ideas remains a powerful force for progress.”
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