Journalists have a bad name at the moment as England football managers are hung out to dry before even meeting the players, and phones hacking has brought a new meaning to the idea of the journalist as a ‘hack’. Today is World Press Freedom Day, a day to celebrate freedom in the press but also to remember that in many parts of the world the press is severely restricted and its freedom violated. Publications are shut down due to political pressure, editors are intimidated, journalists censored, harassed, and murdered (62 journalists having been killed last year as a result of their work), all while trying to report freely and openly.
While our press in the UK may be far from perfect in the light of recent News Corp actions, we are still lucky to have what we can pretty much regard as a free press. World Press Freedom day is held on 3 May and has been ever since the day was proclaimed World Press Freedom Day by the UN General Assembly in 1993, following a recommendation adopted at the twenty-sixth session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991.
The theme of this year’s World Media Day is how media freedom can help transform societies, and with the events of the Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa showing the power of free media in the form of online ‘new media’, media freedom is part of the larger picture of fundamental rights for which people in many countries still strive for. The fact that 95% of the internet is owned by private companies does however pose its own issue in regards to the freedom of new social media channels.
One of the British based events to make the day is an exhibition featuring the photographs of 55 Mexican journalists murdered since 2000. The silenced: fighting for press freedom in Mexico is organised by the Catholic Overseas Development Agency (CAFOD) working with The Guardian and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and will run from until 13 May.
To help celebrate those who put themselves on the front line of the battle for a press free from intimidation and censorship there is also the announcement of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2012. This year an Azerbaijani journalist and human rights activist Eynulla Fatullayev, has been named the winner of the prize by UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova. Fatullayev, 35, is the former editor-in-chief and founder of the popular independent Russian-language weekly Realny Azerbaijan (Real Azerbaijan) and the Azeri-language daily Gundalik Azarbaycan (Azerbaijan Daily) newspapers.
Fatullayev was imprisoned in 2007 for his outspoken defence of press freedom, and was only released last year by presidential pardon on Azerbaijan’s Republic Day, 26 May – an event that was welcomed by the international community. In July 2011 Fatullayev founded the “Public Union for Human Rights”, a non-governmental human rights organisation.
The day will be marked by a conference held in Tunis featuring over 118 speakers including 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkol Karman from Yemen, celebrated Tunisian blogger Lina Bhen Menni, and Al Jazeera’s New Media Chief Moeed Ahmad, will take part in discussions and debates on how press freedom can help societies striving towards more general freedoms.
The conference will also look at global digital inclusion with many arguing that until more people on a global scale can access reliable, quality information many will still be suppressed and reliant upon governments and censored press for information. According to UNESCO over 60% of households worldwide don’t own a computer and 35 percent of the world population consider themselves as “internet users”.