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Burying news hurts crisis response, says IPI, while urging World Economic Forum participants to commit to press freedom

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a 27 January 2009 IPI press release:

IPI to Davos: Burying News Hurts Crisis Response

VIENNA, Austria, 27 January 2009 - As more than 2,500 business and political leaders prepare to gather for the annual World Economic Forum in Switzerland, the International Press Institute today urged participants to commit to press freedom as a way to help tackle global challenges.

The five-day gathering of VIPs, which begins 28 January in Davos, will include discussions of how to spur economic revival, effective governance, sustainable development and leadership values.

''Participants at this year's forum face daunting global issues, but we cannot forget the vital role journalists and free media play in being an early-warning system to economic, political and humanitarian crises,'' IPI Director David Dadge said today. ''Too many governments, and occasionally even companies, prefer to bury the truth by whatever means necessary rather than deal with the consequences.''

On a day-to-day basis, journalists in many countries face intimidation, prosecution, incarceration - even death - for doing their jobs. Since 1 January 2008, 73 journalists have been killed worldwide, and dozens languish in jails in countries that include Azerbaijan, Eritrea and Cuba.

Reports from IPI and other media and human rights groups cite crackdowns on journalists in China and Burma (Myanmar) who tried to file field reports on natural disasters, and in some cases, journalists in China who reported on lost jobs and other impacts of the global financial crisis. In disaster-prone Ethiopia, in-depth reports on famine and social unrest are often taboo subjects for journalists.

''If journalists are to provide warnings when governments cannot - or will not - they must have access to information,'' Dadge said. ''The financial crisis is a prime example of where government and corporate leaders stand to benefit from dogged reporting, to understand what problems lie on the horizon, and a good lesson in why leaders need to be held to account.''

Dadge said the leaders who gather at Davos should set an example by embracing transparency and press freedom.

Media freedom and independence are not new themes to the World Economic Forum. In 2003, accusations of media bias and stereotypes over the US invasion of Iraq sparked a freewheeling debate at a World Economic Forum event. The 2006 World Economic Forum on Africa called for a partnership to combat corruption, with advocates citing the valuable role journalists play in sniffing out graft.

Despite the economic challenges that are expected to dominate this year's Davos forum, organisers say the event is expected to be one of the best attended since the meetings began in 1971. Last year's January meeting was dominated by another crisis - a decline in food supplies and rocketing cost of grains and other basic commodities - as well as calls for bolder leadership on climate change and water supply problems.

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