Tribute to a courageous media | Daily News

Tribute to a courageous media

World Press Freedom Day was celebrated on Friday. It is observed annually on May 3 to inform the international community that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are fundamental human rights. This day reminds people that many journalists brave death or face jail to bring daily news to the public.

The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day is ‘Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation.’

Advanced preparations for this year’s global celebrations had been planned for a multi-faceted focus on journalists’ safety and impunity for crimes committed against them the world over.

Against this background, World Press Freedom Day highlights the links between press freedom, a culture of openness and the right to freedom of information and sustainable development in the digital age. The common thread in all these is the role of journalism and the importance of safeguarding those who bring this service to the public. It also gives people the chance to pay tribute to media professionals who risked or lost their lives in the line of duty. Several communities, organisations and individuals take part in this day through various events such as awards nights to honour those courageous journalists who brave all kinds of storms to bring you the news.

World Press Freedom Day was established by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1993 as an outgrowth of the ‘Seminar on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press’. This seminar took place in Namibia in 1991 and led to the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting Independent and Pluralistic Media.

The Windhoek Declaration called to establish, maintain and foster an independent, pluralistic and free press. It emphasized the importance of a free press for developing and maintaining democracy in a nation, and for economic development.

Although World Press Freedom Day has only been celebrated since 1993, it has much deeper roots in the United Nations. Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights states that everyone “has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Each year since 1997, the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize is awarded to honour the work of an individual or an organization defending or promoting freedom of expression, especially if it puts the individual’s life at risk.

The award is named in honour of Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colombian journalist who was assassinated outside the office of his newspaper ‘El Espectador’ in Bogota on December 17, 1986. Cano’s writings had offended Colombia’s powerful drug barons. The award ceremony is held at the National Press Club in Washington DC.

UNESCO is also encouraging all those who are celebrating World Press Freedom Day to observe a minute of silence in memory of the journalists who have given their lives for our right to be informed.

It is a day of action to encourage and develop initiatives in favour of the freedom of the press:

* A day to assess the state of press freedom worldwide.

* It is a day to remind governments to respect their commitments to press freedom;

* A day to alert the public and to increase awareness of the importance of freedom of the press;

* A day of reflection to encourage debate among media professionals on the issues of press freedom and professional ethics;

* A day of remembrance for journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession; and

* A day of support for media which fall victim to any measures which restrain, or seek to abolish, freedom of the press.

Freedom of the press is the freedom of communication and expression through vehicles including various electronic media and published materials. While such freedom mostly implies the absence of interference from an overreaching state, its preservation may be sought through constitutional or other legal protections. With respect to governmental information, any government may distinguish which materials are public or protected from disclosure to the public based on classification of information as sensitive, classified or secret and being otherwise protected from disclosure due to relevance of the information to protecting the national interest.

Many governments are also subject to ‘Sunshine Laws’ or freedom of information legislation that are used to define the ambit of national interest. Press freedom is considered to be a cornerstone of human rights and a guarantee of other freedoms. It encourages transparency and good governance and it ensures that society enjoys the rule of true justice.

Freedom of the press is a bridge of understanding and knowledge. It is essential for the exchange of ideas between nations and cultures which is a condition for true understanding and lasting cooperation. Information freely gathered and freely reported is the enemy of despots, dictators and criminal cartels. For democracies, it would seem just as obvious that a free and unfettered flow of information is the lifeblood of systems that depend on an informed citizenry to make the ultimate governing decisions.

Newly created global news outlets on the Web, widely used social media, and so-called ‘data dumps’ by groups like WikiLeaks do raise legitimate issues ranging from personal privacy, credibility to national security. Serious critics of the press, here and abroad, are right to point to errors of fact and judgment by journalists.

But on at least one day, we all ought to pause to appreciate the value - and for far too few, the unique national asset - that is a free press.

History is replete with individuals willing to risk their lives and liberty for the freedom to speak out. Indeed, as far back as 399 BC the Athenians executed a courageous thinker who was committed only to the truth. But not before the accused Socrates spoke out fearlessly to a jury at his trial: “If you offered to let me off this time on condition I am not any longer to speak my mind... I should say to you, Men of Athens, I shall obey the Gods rather than you.”

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