Eritrean journalist Biniam Simon did not want to be a mouthpiece for government propaganda and he knew he would be targeted as a terrorist for reporting the truth. He fled his homeland in 2007, and now lives in France. His story is one of six powerful testimonials of exiled journalists worldwide posted on the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) website for World Press Freedom Day on 3 May. On the other side of the world, UNESCO is bringing together journalists and press freedom advocates in Brisbane, Australia, on 1-3 May to celebrate. This year's theme is freedom of information, the right to know.
Radio Erena was started by Simon and friends in Paris in order to have a free and fair news service, which is broadcast to Eritrea via satellite. News is gathered from Eritrean government sources and journalists who risk their lives to pass on information. "I can't imagine if they ever got caught. They would just disappear. A lot of journalists just disappear in Eritrea," says Simon.
This year, WAN-IFRA is honouring journalists who are forced to flee their countries simply for doing their jobs and reporting the truth: "This frequently deprives them of the means to continue working as journalists, and effectively silences them." But Simon is fighting back with Radio Erena, empowering a citizen's right to know.
The WAN-IFRA site also includes photographs, cartoons and editorials for media outlets to publish free of charge on 3 May, as well as a spot to send protest letters to world leaders who threaten press freedom.
At the conference in Brisbane, UNESCO aims to foster reflection and an exchange of ideas on freedom of information to advance empowerment, transparency, accountability and the fight against corruption. Participants, including IFEX members, will delve into discussions on freedom of information laws, experiences of journalists on the frontlines, and freedom of information as a tool to achieve other rights.
For the first time, UNESCO is calling for a minute's silence in newsrooms all over the world on 3 May to honour the more than 1,500 journalists and other news media who have died trying to expose corruption and human rights abuses over the past 14 years. The International News Safety Institute (INSI) is among those honouring the UNESCO request for this gesture of respect to take place every year to condemn the murder of journalists and end impunity for killers.
Chilean journalist Mónica González Mujica is being honoured with this year's UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. The prize was created to acknowledge the work of those defending freedom of expression anywhere in the world, especially if this placed their life in danger.
She "has shown courage in shining the light on the dark side of Chile," said the President of the jury, Joe Thloloe, Press Ombudsman of the Press Council of South Africa. "She has embodied the very spirit of the Award."
She investigated human rights violations of General Augusto Pinochet and his family, and was imprisoned and tortured for her work from 1984 to 1985. Since Chile re-established democracy in 1990, González Mujica has worked as a newspaper editor and journalist, and directs the Center of Journalism and Investigation in Santiago, Chile.
The history of the global struggle for press freedom, and to defend freedom of information, is being showcased on the Freedom House site in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Freedom of the Press - a global survey of press freedom. For each of the 30 days leading up to World Press Freedom Day, a brief essay is being posted about a press freedom development for each year of the survey.
One snapshot describes the disintegration of the media in Yugoslavia during the country's civil war in the early 1990s. Most of the Yugoslavian media was co-opted to spread government propaganda and fear and hatred. In Algeria, 60 journalists were killed in the bloody civil war that lasted throughout the 1990s, targeted by armed groups and the government. But there was a positive turning point for the press in Ghana in 2001 with reforms that repealed criminal libel and sedition laws creating an atmosphere for private newspapers to freely criticise the state.
World Press Freedom Day marks the anniversary of the 1991 Declaration of Windhoek, a statement of principles calling for a free, independent and pluralistic media throughout the world. The Declaration affirms that a free press is essential to the existence of democracy and a fundamental human goal.
IFEX MEMBERS SPEARHEAD WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY EVENTS
IFEX members all over the world are taking the opportunity on World Press Freedom Day to educate, to inform and to galvanise press freedom advocates to challenge the powers that continue to have a stranglehold on the flow of information.
In Liberia, the Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP) is urging the government to pass three bills intended to reform the Liberian media. CEMESP is also using the occasion of 3 May to emphasise that the free flow of information is the cornerstone of democracy and needed to help ordinary citizens participate fully in public life, have access to justice and hold public officials accountable. This cannot happen when the media is restricted by legislation and Liberian journalists continue to suffer assaults from security forces, says CEMESP.
The Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association (EFJA) continues its activism in exile since it was brutally suspended in 2005. At the time, EFJA journalists fled the country to survive. Independent journalists who remain in Ethiopia struggle to do their jobs despite severe media repression. For World Press Freedom Day, EFJA is asking for the support of the IFEX international community to pressure the Ethiopian government to revoke the illegal measures taken against EFJA.
Focusing on the obstacles and abuses Lebanese journalists face every day in their work, Maharat Foundation, in cooperation with UNESCO, will be launching its annual report on the "Status of freedom of expression and access to information in Lebanon" on 5 May in Beirut. The report also aims to expose access to information violations and impunity surrounding the murder of journalists Samir Kassir and Gebran Tueni. It will be available at: http://www.maharatfoundation.org/
The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedom (MADA) is honouring the day by launching its legal defense programme for Palestinian journalists' rights, which includes legal aid for journalists, free legal consultations on issues relating to freedom of expression and publishing, workshops on human rights for journalists, as well as a legal guide in the form of a booklet which will be distributed to journalists. MADA is also revamping its website with new links, photos and videos about violations against journalists in the occupied Palestinian territories, among other resources. A printed version of MADA's 2009 report, which includes details on 173 press freedom violations, will be available on 3 May. See: http://www.madacenter.org/mada/
On 3 May, the Free Zarganar Campaign coalition will be holding a lively event in London's Trafalgar Square to call for the famous Burmese comedian's immediate release. Zarganar is currently serving a 35-year prison sentence for his criticism of the Burmese junta's incompetent response to the 2008 Cyclone Nargis disaster. More than 140,000 people died and millions were made homeless. Zarganar regularly gave interviews to journalists abroad, exposing the devastation. The London event begins at 2 p.m. and is supported by Index on Censorship. Speakers will include former Burmerse political prisoners. Organisers are asking supporters to wear something red and bring a colourful umbrella! There will aslo be performances by The Burmese Theatre Workshop. For more information about the campaign, see:
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Asia-Pacific and its affiliates and partners are celebrating with a range of events in the region. On 3 May, the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) will be launching "The Battle for Democracy: Press Freedom in South Asia 2009-10," a report that contains an analysis of media rights in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. See: http://asiapacific.ifj.org/en
The Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) is using 3 May to delve into challenges Nepali journalists are facing, surrounding safety, impunity and increasing self-censorship. FNJ will be holding simultaneous conferences in Kathmandu, Nepalgunj and Biratnagar and marching through the cities' main streets, carrying banners, to inaugurate the meetings. More than 100 journalists will be attending. FNJ will also be constructing a memorial on its premises, to honour journalists who have lost their lives during conflict.
In Sri Lanka, media freedom has become a farce with the recent appointment of a politician notorious for insulting and physically attacking journalists as the deputy minister of media and information. The Colombo-based Free Media Movement (FMM) is collaborating with eight local media organisations to conduct a public seminar on 3 May to protest attacks on the press.
LATIN AMERICA AND CARIBBEAN
The Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers (ACM) is bringing attention to UNESCO's global theme of freedom of information in a conference on 3-4 May in Port of Spain, Trinidad. ACM will be collaborating with UNESCO, the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) and the Trinidad and Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA). Special attention will be paid to media challenges and opportunities in earthquake-affected Haiti.
The Latin American Observatory for the Freedom of Expression (OLA) is using 3 May to produce a radio broadcast in Peru, connecting journalists' organisations throughout the country to discuss the press freedom situation. The broadcast can be followed online: http://www.anp.org.pe/. OLA will also be hosting a special programme to pay tribute to Peruvian and Latin American journalists who died simply for practicing their profession.
In Moldova, several media organisations, including the Independent Journalism Centre (IJC), will be demonstrating in front of government buildings on 3 May, demanding the elimination of an advertising tax. IJC also plans to hold a press conference to deliver a statement on the press freedom situation in the country. On 7 May, there will be a workshop for Moldovan judges on the topic of freedom of expression law implementation. See: http://www.ijc.md
Assaults on Ukrainian journalists increased in 2009 and many media outlets closed as a result of the economic crisis, says the Institute of Mass Information (IMI). For World Press Freedom Day, IMI is holding a press conference, "Press freedom in Ukraine; predators of the press 2009" in Kiev, and launching its annual "Press Freedom Chronicle" of violations. In 2009, 30 journalists were intimidated and assaulted, and 27 suffered from economic and indirect political pressures. The conference will also target powerful authorities who are muzzling the press. See: http://eng.imi.org.ua/