Governments, politicians, businesses and citizens of the world must commit to nurturing and protecting an independent free media, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) yesterday.
“Without this fundamental right, people are less free and less empowered. With it, we can work together for a world of dignity and opportunity for all,” he said.
“A free, independent and safe media environment is essential. Yet, all too often, journalists are threatened, harassed, obstructed or even killed in the pursuit of information. Many languish in detention, some in appalling conditions, for shedding light on governance failures, corporate malfeasance or societal problems.”
In its message to mark the day, the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) said a press freedom issue South African journalists were celebrating this year was the declaration by the ruling ANC “that legislation will be introduced in a few months to repeal the common law crime of criminal defamation which provided for journalists to be jailed for what they write”.
Sanef added: “For years journalists around the world have been campaigning for the scrapping of this law, which has often been used in some countries to jail critics of governments.
“It is also a day on which tribute is paid to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.
“In 2015, the Committee to Protect Journalists recorded 72 deaths and, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), 29 journalists have died so far this year.”
This year’s World Press Freedom Day coincides with three important milestones:
- The 250th anniversary of the world’s first freedom of information law, covering modern-day Sweden and Finland.
- The 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration of press freedom principles.
- This year being the first of the 15-year life-cycle of the new sustainable development goals.
The winner of the 2016 Unesco/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize is Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist from Azerbaijan.
She is serving seven years in prison, a sentence activists attribute to her expose of corrupt activities in government.