20 years of IFEX and World Press Freedom Day
IFEX and World Press Freedom Day almost share a birthday. IFEX was born in 1992, one year after UNESCO adopted 3 May as World Press Freedom Day.
UNESCO supported IFEX from its debut as a network of a dozen international free expression NGOs, and that support helped IFEX grow to be the world's leading global network of free expression organisations, with members in over 60 countries.
Each year, people everywhere turn to IFEX to find out how the world is celebrating the day. From local events focusing on specific attacks on press freedom, to online activities that attract participants from around the globe, IFEX members continue to commemorate 3 May each year in their own way.
Over the past 20 years we have launched campaigns on issues that lie at the very heart of press freedom, including the decriminalisation of libel laws, protecting digital freedom, and ending the killing and jailing of journalists, writers, activists and others who are targeted for exercising their right to free expression.
For IFEX and its members, the issue of impunity for crimes against free expression is paramount. In 2011, IFEX established 23 November - the anniversary of the 2009 attack in the Philippines that left 32 journalists and media workers dead - as the International Day to End Impunity. This campaign targets the system that enables crimes against those who speak out, and its goal is to end those violations. In 2012, UN agencies met in Vienna to work on efforts to implement the UN plan to safeguard the lives of journalists.
Press freedom is essential to democracy. Since IFEX was founded, many dictatorships have fallen – including Indonesia and Nigeria in the 1990s, or Tunisia and Egypt during the recent Arab spring uprisings. IFEX members have been at the forefront of campaigns to fight for press freedom under those repressive governments. In the 1990s, we campaigned for justice when Nigerian writer and environmental activist Ken Saro Wiwa was murdered by his own government.
In January 2011, the efforts of the IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group - a coalition of 21 IFEX members that campaigned for free expression in Tunisia for eight years, were rewarded when journalist Fahem Boukadous was released from jail following the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. They could never have imagined the new president would be human rights activist Moncef Marzouki, and that they would be marking World Press Freedom Day with him during the official UNESCO ceremony in Tunis on 3 May 2012. Tunisia is also a reminder that we can never assume that progress toward press freedom cannot be reversed, often much more quickly than those rights are attained.
The world we live in now is different from the year World Press Freedom Day was launched. While the tools we have to share information and act in defence of free expression have evolved dramatically, IFEX's commitment to defending and promoting free expression and press freedom remains constant.
This article was originally written for UNESCO's publication Pressing for Freedom: 20 years of World Press Freedom Day by Kristina Stockwood, IFEX Campaigns Coordinator.