May 3rd is World Press Freedom Day. This day of observance was established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, to raise awareness of the importance of press freedom. This year, UNESCO is highlighting the fact that a free and independent media are crucial to human advancement and development.
“At this time of turbulence and change across the world, including new challenges that require global cooperation and action, the need for quality information has never been so important,” said Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova.
“This requires a strong environment of press freedom and well-functioning systems to ensure the people’s right to know.”
Yet over the past several years, in every part of the world, we see an accelerating trend by both state and non-state actors, to stifle media and Internet freedom.
According to the recently-issued State Department Country Reports on Human Rights, in too many countries, governments cracked down on the fundamental freedoms of expression and association by jailing reporters for writing critical stories. And they did so in numerous and varied ways.
Some passed new laws, or used existing laws, to selectively persecute, harass, intimidate and prosecute journalists, independent media and bloggers critical of the sitting regime or its actions.
Others chose to view criticism as a targeted insult and chose to prosecute journalists under new or existing, frequently vaguely-worded laws against insulting the head of state or the government.
Elsewhere, a government used anti-terror and insult laws to prosecute journalists and to either drive opposition media outlets out of business, or to bring them under state control.
And so, on this day, let us remember the crucial role that free media play in keeping society free and healthy. Let us stand up in support of journalists under threat, and of media in danger of being censored or shut down, and remember those journalists who lost their lives while exercising their profession.
The world must unite in the global campaign to end impunity for crimes committed against journalists since some 90 percent of crimes committed against journalists have gone unprosecuted, and less than 7 percent of cases in which journalists have been killed have been resolved.
“Far from threatening the democratic process,” wrote Secretary of State John Kerry in his preface to this year’s Human Rights Report, “a free press and open civil society are the release valve and life blood of a thriving democracy.”