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IFEX members celebrate World Press Freedom Day and honour slain journalists

Somali and Sri Lankan correspondents report for World Press Freedom Day.
Somali and Sri Lankan correspondents report for World Press Freedom Day.

via IPI

On World Press Freedom Day, IFEX members demanded justice for murdered journalists, shone a spotlight on the enemies of press freedom worldwide, and recognised that a free media and respect for the right to information are needed to shape responsive and responsible governments. The annual date of 3 May was proclaimed World Press Freedom Day by the UN General Assembly in 1993 following a recommendation adopted by UNESCO in 1991.

On the heels of releasing its Impunity Index, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) chose to challenge authorities to solve the cases of 10 journalists murdered because of their work. The 10 unsolved cases are emblematic of the absence of political will to find the killers, which fosters a culture of impunity.

In the cases selected, CPJ research shows that law enforcement officials have failed to follow leads, interview witnesses, collect sufficient evidence or bring successful prosecutions. In many scenarios, suspects have been identified, and in others, there is evidence that leads directly to potential culprits. "Solving these cases would start to change the culture of impunity around the world, a condition that produces widespread self-censorship and stifles the global dialogue."

The first case emphasised is the 30 Filipino journalists and media workers slaughtered in November 2009. Another case is that of Lebanese journalists Samir Qassir and Gebran Tueni killed in car bombings in 2005 for criticising Syria. Journalists in Sri Lanka, Russia, Mexico, Iraq, Gambia, Pakistan, Azerbaijan and Burkina Faso also make the list. CPJ reports that in 90 percent of journalists murdered, the killers are not brought to justice.

Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC), International PEN also decided to reflect on the "long, shameful tradition of impunity" and to take a moment to honour writers and journalists who have been killed in the line of duty. WiPC paid tribute to four journalists, from among 50 emblematic cases representing the organisation's work over the past 50 years. Bulgarian journalist Georgi Markov defected in 1962, became a radio broadcaster, and was murdered by Bulgarian intelligence in London in 1978. Algerian journalist and novelist Tahar Djaout was shot dead in 1993 after he published four novels which criticised despotism between 1981 and 1991. Independent Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who exposed human rights abuses, was shot dead in 2006. Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who reported on human rights abuses, minority rights and Turkish-Armenian relations, was killed in 2007.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) used the day to shame predators of press freedom - politicians, government officials, religious leaders, militias and criminal organisations - who see the press as a sector of society that must be eliminated. This year's list of Predators of Press Freedom has 40 names from around the world, and includes many of the same suspects from last year.

Yemeni President Ali Abdulah Saleh has been added to the RSF list for creating a special court for press offences, harassing newspapers and prosecuting a dozen journalists. Leader of the Taliban Mullah Mohammad Omar's rule of terror has targeted journalists in Afghanistan and Pakistan with kidnappings and suicide bombs.

RSF also mentions the head of the military government in Burma, Than Shwe, for imposing draconian jail sentences on dozens of journalists, bloggers and human rights activists. Others on the list include private militias in the Philippines, the Israel Defence Forces, Italian organised crime groups, the Palestinian Authority's security forces and Nepalese armed groups. Heads of state include Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

In a special week-long series of correspondent diary entries, the International Press Institute (IPI) is focusing on Somalia and Sri Lanka, two of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists last year. Sri Lankan Iqbal Athas writes about smear campaigns against him for reporting on corruption and the struggle for resources to do investigative journalism. Somali Mohammed Ibrahim writes about insurgent bans on books and music, and a Transitional Federal Government that can barely defend itself; unable to stand up to militants who control the flow of information.

ARTICLE 19 provided a global snapshot of select case studies to emphasise that only a free media can give people the information they need to make decisions about their lives. ARTICLE 19 cites an anti-corruption journalist in Brazil who improved the lives of citizens in the small town of Tejuco in the state of Minas Gerais through his reporting. Journalist Fábio Oliva wrote about local officials seizing public money meant for delivering water pipes, and using the money to build their own wells. Oliva's articles led to an investigation and a new water system is due to be delivered to Tejuco by late 2011. Across the world in Asia, two Vietnamese journalists who uncovered high-level corruption were not so lucky. They were arrested and sentenced to two-year prison terms in 2008 after writing about development aid meant for building bridges and roads being spent on gambling.

To mark the day, the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) called on "governments and international agencies to respect the communication rights of communities struck by disaster and to recognise the vital role of community media in disaster response and reconstruction." In both the Haitian and Chilean earthquakes, community radio stations suffered serious damage. But many were able to get back on air and provide vital information on missing persons and the needs of the displaced. "It is not sufficient to focus on informational messages to disaster hit communities. The first responders are people in the communities themselves who need communication tools to organise local relief," said AMARC.

Two IFEX members, Freedom House and the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), announced that they have combined their operations. The Committee's incorporation into the larger Freedom House was timed to coincide with World Press Freedom Day.

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