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WAN calls on governments to protect press freedom in face of anti-terrorism laws

(WAN/IFEX) - The following is a WAN press release:

3 May, World Press Freedom Day Anti-Terrorism Laws Threaten Free Press: WAN

The World Association of Newspapers issued a seven-point manifesto today, World Press Freedom Day, that calls on the world's governments to take specific measures to protect freedom of the press in the face of widespread tightening of anti-terrorism measures.

"There is a legitimate and growing concern that security and surveillance measures are being used to stifle debate and the free flow of information about political decisions," said Timothy Balding, CEO of the Paris-based WAN. "While the objective of these measures is laudable and compelling - the protection of citizens against threats to life and property - there are concerns that they are being implemented with too little concern for the overriding necessity to protect individual liberties and, notably, freedom of the press."

Mr Balding said these concerns arise not only in countries like Russia or China, where journalists have been convicted under state secrets laws, but in western democracies as well. In recent years, journalists have been prosecuted in Canada, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Romania, Switzerland and the United Kingdom for "violating state secrets" and similar charges related to materials they published.

There have been several acquittals and, thus far, no convictions. Most of the cases are related to the current conflict in Iraq and the "war on terror".

The WAN manifesto, which can be found at http://www.worldpressfreedomday.org (please click on the "WAN 3 May Manifesto" title to download the document), calls on governments and their agencies:

- to guarantee public availability of officially held data, information and archives accessible under Freedom of Information laws or related legal provisions;

- to guarantee the right of journalists to protect their confidential sources of information;

- to make electronic surveillance of communications dependent on judicial authorisation, control or review, and to protect the imperative independence and confidentiality of newsgathering;

- to ensure that searches of journalists offices or homes are conducted uniquely by warrant issued only when there is proven ground for suspicion of lawbreaking;

- to guarantee journalists the right to cover all sides of a story, including that of alleged terrorists, and to restrain from any hasty or unjustified criminalisation of speech;

- to abstain from prosecuting journalists who published classified information;

- to abstain from the use of government services to plant false or misleading articles masquerading as normal journalism as well as the false use of journalistic identities by intelligence agents.

World Press Freedom Day, 3 May, marks the anniversary of the 1991 Declaration of Windhoek, a statement of principles calling for a free, independent and pluralistic media throughout the world. It has become a day to raise awareness of press freedom problems worldwide, and to recognise the sacrifices that independent media and journalists make to keep their societies informed.

WAN is providing a package of editorial materials, public service advertisements, infographics, cartoons, videos and other information to commemorate World Press Freedom Day, and is encouraging newspapers and web sites to publish the materials on 3 May - go to http://www.worldpressfreedomday.org

The Paris-based WAN, the global organisation for the newspaper industry, defends and promotes press freedom world-wide. It represents 18,000 newspapers; its membership includes 76 national newspaper associations, newspaper companies and individual newspaper executives in 102 countries, 12 news agencies and 10 regional and world-wide press groups.

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