Americas

World Press Freedom Day 2012

A free press is a form of freedom of expression, providing citizens with access to knowledge and information, thus safeguarding any political system based on the will of the people.

Members of the media tape their mouth as they protest against the arrest of journalists in Panama. (file)
Members of the media tape their mouth as they protest against the arrest of journalists in Panama. (file)

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A free press is a form of freedom of expression, providing citizens with access to knowledge and information, thus safeguarding any political system based on the will of the people.  On May 3rd, we celebrate World Press Freedom Day.   It is a day to consider the importance of freedom of the press, and to remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression as stipulated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  

But Freedom of the Press Day serves not only to highlight the importance of an uncensored press: it also serves as a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down; that in many countries, journalists, editors and publishers and bloggers are harassed, attacked, jailed and even murdered.  It aims to remind governments of the need to respect their commitment to Press Freedom, and to journalists

This day also serves as a reminder to professionals of their responsibility to society, and of the importance of maintaining professional ethics. It is a day of support for media which are targets for the censorship, or abolition of press freedom. And it is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

Former Philippine President Corazon Aquino once said that "Freedom of the press guarantees popular participation in the decisions and actions of government, and popular participation is the essence of democracy."  

A free press is sometimes called the Fourth Pillar of Democracy.  That is because a free press reports abuses of power by public officials.  It shines a spotlight on government decision makers and those who influence them.  It keeps the citizens informed of news critical of the government, gives them the opportunity to exchange information and opinions about public affairs without interference by government officials. It spurs them into pressuring the government to right wrongs.

As one-time U.S. Supreme Court Judge Felix Frankfurter once said, "Freedom of the press is not an end in itself but a means to the end of [achieving] a free society."

A silent press means the end of democracy.

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