MAY 5, 2018


Alison Smale, Opening Meeting; UN Photo/Manuel Elias

Jan Kickert and Hajime Kishimore; UN Photo/Manuel Elias

Group Photo; UN Photo/Manuel Elias

The World Press Freedom Day was declared by the U.N. General Assembly in December 1993. Grassroots mobilization for years started with a regional conference in Namibia, with the Windhoek Declaration of 3 May 1991, a joint effort by the U.N. Department of Public Information, then headed by Ms. Thérèse Paquet-Sévigny, and UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Communication, Information, and Informatics, in conjunction with UNESCO leadership from Alain Modoux and Henrikas Juskevicius. The last regional gathering was in Santiago, Chile, Headquarters of the U.N. Regional Commission for the Caribbean and Latin America.

The official General Assembly resolution declaring the Press Freedom Day was produced in a joint effort by delegations led by the Permanent Representative of Chile, Ambassador Juan Somavia, later Director-General of the International Labor Organization in Geneva and the Head of the Department of Public Information, Samir Sanbar. It was hoped that the declaration would prod member-states, particularly reluctant governments, to allow more freedom for press and reporters in their countries. It also intended to make a wider impact on international media, particularly with the introduction of the Internet and digital communications.

"Keeping Power in Check: The Protection of Journalists and Media Workers" was the main theme of a Conference on May 3 prepared by the U.N. Department of Public Information. An opening session moderated by Ms. Alison Smale, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, was opened by a video statement by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who was travelling; Miroslav Lajcak, the President of the General Assembly, and Austria's Ambassador Jan Kickert, President of the Committee of Information, with the participation of Melissa Kent, correspondent of CBC Radio Canada and Nicole Stremlau, the lead researcher for the latest UNESCO report on World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development. It was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Ramu Damodaran, Chief of U.N. Academic Impact, Outreach Division of the Department of Public Information, with initial presentations by Ambassador Francois Delattre of France, Ms. Marie Bourreau ,correspondent of Le Monde and Radio France Internationale, Steve Coll, author and Dean of Columbia Journalism school, Ms. Elisabeth Canten, the Executive Director for A Culture for Safety Alliance, and Loubna Mrie, a Syrian activist student at New York University. There were relevant points and questions raised by representatives fully attending from Media, Non-Governmental Organisations and interested experienced individuals.

The most recent murder of photographers in Afghanistan, the arrest of active reporters in Myanmar, and a published list of media representatives persecuted, arrested and killed over this year in so many countries should draw serious attention to the need for urgent protection.

It is obviously crucial to commemorate this day, proclaim it, and make a point of raising it in every corner of the world. More relevant is also the need to ensure practical implementation, particularly by delegates making supportive statements at the U.N. and senior U.N. officials celebrating the occasion. That requires continued vigilance, commitment, and constant reminders.

Much has been accomplished, much more is yet to be done.