15 MAY 2017


It was the U.N. Secretariat, spearheaded by then-head of the Department of Public Information, Samir Sanbar, working closely with key delegates like Chile's then-Ambassador Juan Somavia, who obtained General Assembly approval of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 1993.

Preparations to mobilize media and public opinion started with a regional effort years earlier. Therese Paquet-Sevigny of Canada, then head of DPI, launched the first gathering in Windhoek, Namibia, in close collaboration with Alain Modoux, then Assistant Director-General of UNESCO in charge of the Programme for Freedom of Expression, Democracy and Peace. It was followed by a series of meetings at the five world's continents with similar collaborations between UN/DPI and UNESCO, culminating in a concluding one in Santiago, Chile. It was then a positive opportunity for Professor Somavia, his country's Ambassador and later Director General of its World Health Organization, to play a pivotal role in prodding delegations to gain unanimous support.

In recent years, UNESCO took a more active role than the U.N. Secretariat, which apparently did not wish to challenge member governments that oppressed the press. This year's commemoration by committees concerned with protection of reporters indicated that 74 journalists were killed during 2016, over 300 arrested or wounded while a number of journalists have experienced mistreatment and censorship. To mark the Day this year, delegations of France, Greece, and Lithuania held a conference at U.N. Headquarters "on behalf of the Group of Friends of the protection of journalists to discuss the safety of women in conflict situations." Secretary-General Guterres issued a forceful statement highlighting the indispensable voice of journalists "who go to the most dangerous places and should be protected as they stand for the right to tell the truth."

For some unexplained reason, UN/DPI decided to hold a meeting -- not on 3 May -- but on 4 May. It was arranged by the competent Hawa Diallo of the Non-Governmental Organization on "Critical Minds for Critical Times." The lack of highlighted, significant relevance of that professionally, courageously and morally adopted Free Press Day seems to overlook the Department's own role in inspiring World Press Freedom Day. Let's hope for a more appropriate commemoration next year. Meanwhile, it was quipped that the current fellow in charge would have more interest in World Tuna Day.