World Press Freedom Day, celebrated every May, was established by the United Nations to raise awareness of the role that a free press plays in strengthening democracies and fostering development through increased transparency and accountability in government.
Major advances in communications technologies such as satellite television and the Internet have furthered the cause of a free flow of news and information that are important to a free society. But media freedom remains seriously constrained by regimes in many parts of the world that seek to quash the criticism that their harsh actions and policies may produce.
Marking the day earlier this month, President Barack Obama noted that since the event was created in 1993, 692 journalists have been killed in the line of duty. "Only a third of those deaths were linked to the dangers of covering war," the president said. "The majority of victims were local reporters covering topics such as crime, corruption and national security in their home countries."
Hundreds more face arrest and intimidation, however. It is censorship at its most dangerous. Journalists are in jail or are being actively harassed in Azerbaijan, Zimbabwe, Burma, Uzbekistan, Eritrea and Cuba – 125 alone in just 2008.
World Press Freedom Day 2009, then, didn't so much offer a cause to celebrate than an opportunity to reflect on the need to be constantly vigilant about core human rights. Press freedoms are under attack even in some advanced democracies, showing how easily many fundamental rights, not just those of the press, can be taken away.