Thursday, 3 May 2012


“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” - George Washington

On May 3rd, World Press Freedom Day is annually observed to inform the community that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are fundamental human rights. This day reminds people that many journalists brave death or face jail to bring daily news to the public. The day gives people the opportunity to acknowledge media professionals who risked or lost their lives in the line of duty. Many communities, organizations and individuals take part in this day through various events such as art exhibitions, dinners featuring keynote speakers, and awards nights to honour those who bring news to the world in an objective, truthful and candid manner.

World Press Freedom Day was established by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1993 as an outgrowth of the Seminar on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press. This seminar took place in Namibia in 1991 and led to the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting Independent and Pluralistic Media. The Windhoek Declaration called to establish, maintain and foster an independent, pluralistic and free press. It emphasized the importance of a free press for developing and maintaining democracy in a nation, and for economic development. World Press Freedom Day is celebrated annually on May 3, the date on which the Windhoek Declaration was adopted.

Although World Press Freedom Day has only been celebrated since 1993, it has much deeper roots in the United Nations. Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights states that everyone “has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

Each year since 1997, the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize is awarded to honour the work of an individual or an organisation defending or promoting freedom of expression, especially if it puts the individual’s life at risk. The award is named after a journalist murdered in 1986 after denouncing drug barons. Last year it was awarded posthumously to a Russian investigative reporter who was murdered in a contract-style killing in 2006.

The theme for World Press Freedom Day 2012 is “New Voices: Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies”. The recent uprisings worldwide have highlighted the power of the media, the human quest for freedom of expression and the confluence of press freedom and freedom of expression through various traditional and new media, such as blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc. This has given rise to an unprecedented level of media freedom. New media have enabled civil society, young people and communities to bring about massive social and political transformations by self-organising, and engaging the global youth in the fight to be able to freely express themselves and the aspirations of their wider communities.

However, it must be understood that media freedom is fragile, and it is also not yet within the reach of everyone. As more reporting is now done online, more and more online journalists including bloggers are being harassed, attacked or even killed for their work. We should take great pains to allow freedom of expression of individuals on whatever platform they choose. By being aware of the important and fundamental human right of freedom of speech, we can safeguard it and help make it a respected right worldwide.

Rights have also attendant responsibilities and freedom of expression is no exception. Many people interpret freedom of the press and freedom of speech to mean that anything can be reported and written with impunity. However, it is the responsibility of good journalism to be objective, respectful of other people, inclusive, civil, tactful and cautious. Freedom of the press doesn’t imply that a reporter may vilify, abuse and denigrate nor does it give free rein to fabrication and sloppy reportage that is deficient in facts and laden with poorly formed opinion. A good reporter has all the facts, is objective and while incisive and honest, is never slanderous or pejorative.

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