Create safe environment for journalists: UNESCO

Speaking in solidarity with journalists and other concerned parties that turned up in large numbers to commemorate the May 3 World Press Freedom Day on Wednesday, UNESCO director-general Ko’chiro Matsuura called on governments and public authorities to safeguard freedom of expression by ensuring that journalists and other media practitioners carry out their work freely. Matsuura was adding his voice to other solidarity messages marking the occasion held under the theme “Media and Poverty Eradication”. “UNESCO calls on governments and public authorities throughout the world to end, in particular, the culture of impunity regarding violence against journalists by investigating and punishing those responsible for attacks on media professionals, and by taking the necessary precautions that make it possible for journalists to continue to provide us with the essential knowledge and information that flow from a free and independent press,” said Matsuura in his speech read on his behalf by UNESCO country director for Namibia Dr Claudia Harvey at the Polytechnic Institute in Windhoek. He said it was worrying that last year there were more media violations than ever before. “In 2005, according to the statistics of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), a record number of journalists and media staff ‘ 150 people ‘ were killed in the line of duty. This is the largest annual number of media professionals killed in recorded history, and represents a tragic continuation of a statistical trend that has been rising over the past several years; being a journalist is very dangerous and, sadly, is becoming more so,” he said. Last year 500 journalists across the world were either jailed or detained while 60 were killed in Iraq alone. Matsuura said without press freedom it would be difficult for the world to eradicate or reduce poverty by half by 2015 as targeted by the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Gracing the occasion that was organised by Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Namibia), Namibia Minister of Information and Broadcasting Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah said she was happy to note that in Namibia there was adequate press freedom to enable media practitioners do their work freely in line with the SADC Protocol on Culture, Information and Sport. She, however, took a swipe at some sections of the media that she said were peddling insults and fanning hatred among the country’s nationals. “It is, therefore, disturbing when some media practitioners or some editors allow their papers to be abused by carrying articles that are clearly aimed at destroying our process of nation building. Allowing your paper to carry articles that are insulting national leaders, heroes of the Namibian revolution, or articles that are inciting, is unacceptable and tantamount to sabotaging the gains of our independence and undermining out democracy,” she said. Ndaitwah urged the media to concentrate on issue-based journalism which would help eradicate poverty. In Zambia similar views of responsible reporting were sounded by the country MISA chairperson Kellys Kaunda. “Journalists should not always leave things to the politicians to decide the destiny of the country and it’s important that we all as media practitioners stand up and be counted,” he said. He challenged the government to reconsider taking the “delayed” proposed enactment of the Independent Broadcasting Authority and the amendment of the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation Act of 1988 which empowers the minister of information to influence the independence of the media to parliament for debate and enactment into law. A political commentator said the biggest obstacle in the fight for press freedoms were the journalists themselves. “The biggest threat to a free press and a free media are the journalists themselves because they lack the necessary tools to make them independent,” said Akashambatwa Mbikusita-Lewanika, a former minister in the Frederick Chiluba and Levy Mwanawasa governments. More than 1 000 journalists from training institutions, public and private media houses marched along the streets of the Zambian capital, Lusaka, to join in the celebrations. To mark the day, the International Federation for Journalists (IFJ), the world’s largest journalists’ group, reaffirmed that development and eradication of world poverty depends on the existence of free media and the exercise of independent journalism in safe and secure conditions. “Freedom of the press empowers the poor and disadvantaged by giving them a voice, it is the lifeblood of democracy by holding governments and those who exercise power to account, and it creates confidence in the future by exposing corruption and intolerance,” said IFJ in a statement. “Today journalists’ unions around the world celebrate the struggle for press freedom and they show their solidarity with colleagues at home and abroad who sacrifice themselves daily for the people’s right to know, for democracy and for respect of fundamental rights,” it added. IFJ called for action to remove all obstacles to press freedom around the world. It called for action in defence of quality media and a culture of press freedom in which ethical conduct, effective self-regulation, and safety and protection of media staff have priority, and the recognition of labour rights. “In recognition that labour rights are a press freedom issue, professionalism in media depends upon decent work and social justice in journalism. It is only through fair wages and working conditions that journalists can practice ethical journalism and reject corruption,” said IFJ. It demanded for the release of all journalists serving jail sentences in connection with their work. “The IFJ sends a message of solidarity to journalists everywhere. We demand that those in jail or facing trial for their profession are set free; we insist that the international community acts against impunity to end the targeting and killing of journalists, and we pledge our support for global solidarity among journalists in every corner of the world.” IFJ, which was founded in 1926, said the motto “There can be no press freedom if journalists exist in conditions of corruption, poverty or fear” remained a core statement in the belief that the campaign for rights of journalists must be the centrepiece of the struggle for press freedom around the world.

May 2006
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