It's World Press Freedom Day. How are you celebrating?

BlogHer Original Post

Since 1993, May 3 has been the day that UNESCO sets aside as World Press Freedom Day.This year's commemoration, centered in Doha, Qatar, features an International Conference on the Potential of the Media: Dialogue, Mutual Understanding and Reconciliation. UNESCO's Director-General challenged conference participants:

We must strengthen our efforts to build a media that is critical of inherited assumptions yet tolerant of alternative perspectives; a media that provides the information that enables people to make well-informed decisions; a media that brings competing narratives into a shared story of interdependence; a media that responds to diversity through dialogue.

UNESCO World Press Freedom Day logoAround the world, bloggers are using the day not only to call attention to the dangers facing individual media workers in societies repressive governments, but also to the impact that economic and political forces in ostensibly free countries are constricting access to public square.

Journalists Memorial Rededicated In Arlington

The issue of press freedom is so fraught that even the UNESCO conference has caused controversy. Genevieve Long reports that the International Federation of Journalists is boycotting the UNESCO conference because:

"The concerns that exist about the treatment of journalists in Qatar - denied the right to form their own association or union, subject to official controls over their freedom of movement - remain in place.

As a result, the IFJ is today informing all of its affiliates that it will not formally participate in the meeting organised by UNESCO in co-operation with the government of Qatar to celebrate World Press Freedom Day 2009..."

Index on Censorship asked a panel of experts what can be done to
advance press freedom around the world. Here's what Belarus Free
Theater Director Natalia Koliada had to say:

It is scary that in the year 2009 there are still ‘black zones'
where press freedom does not exist. It is necessary to get rid off of
thoze zones. Only freedom of the media can guarantee open dialogue and
public discussion.  

Pres. Barack Obama's statement of support for World Press Freedom day called attention to the continuing dangers faced by journalists worldwide:

Even as the world recognizes the central and indisputable importance of press freedom, journalists find themselves in frequent peril. Since this day was first celebrated some sixteen years ago, 692 journalists have been killed. Only a third of those deaths were linked to the dangers of covering war; the majority of victims were local reporters covering topics such as crime, corruption, and national security in their home countries. Adding to this tragic figure are the hundreds more each year who face intimidation, censorship, and arbitrary arrest - guilty of nothing more than a passion for truth and a tenacious belief that a free society depends on an informed citizenry. In every corner of the globe, there are journalists in jail or being actively harassed: from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, Burma to Uzbekistan, Cuba to Eritrea. Emblematic examples of this distressing reality are figures like J.S. Tissainayagam in Sri Lanka, or Shi Tao and Hu Jia in China. We are also especially concerned about the citizens from our own country currently under detention abroad: individuals such as Roxana Saberi in Iran, and Euna Lee and Laura Ling in North Korea.

Katherine Bergin at the First Amendment Law Profs blog notes that according to Freedom House's annual report on press freedom, the United States' stature has fallen to "partly free" because of "increased threats to media independence and diversity."  She adds:

"The U.S. has an opportunity to improve its standing even further by passing a federal reporters' shield statute."

Usually journalists ask government to be less involved in its work, but Arab News reports on an effort in Saudi Arabia to get the government to impose greater restrictions on online writers who libel them:

 The SJA [Saudi Journalists Association] will also demand that site owners be questioned should they publish content that creates social harm and negative images. In a periodic council meeting, the SJA discussed the story of 13 women Saudi journalists who have lodged complaints against a Saudi online newspaper.

The World Association of Newspapers also has a list of heads of state that can be sent protest letters about the journalists and bloggers imprisoned in their countries.

At Poynter.org, Barb Iverson has a round-up of online and n-person activities taking place over the next few days. This includes an upcoming series of online chats for journalists hosted by the US State Department on such as the impact of the recession on newsgathering and the prospects for independent journalism. Barb points to a Facebook page with details and sign-up information on the chat sessions.

 Related:

  • See why the Mindanao Examiner says, there's "nothing to celebrate" in the Philippines.
  • Check out the Newseum's Journalists' Memorial
  • Faridom Arida reports on a survey that finds that 94 percent of journalists in Jordan censor themselves.
  • Geoffrey Phillips echoes PEN International's call for support for World Press Freedom Day.

Media credits:

(top image)World Press Freedom Day logo from UNESCO

bottom image: Freedom House's Global Press Freedom map.

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