World ponders uneven press freedoms


Observances of World Press Freedom Day today prompted some leaders to pardon imprisoned journalists while others endured criticism for failing to support press liberties.

This is precisely what the United Nations had in mind when it established World Press Freedom Day in 1993 to encourage the international community to constantly evaluate press freedoms and to defend the press from attacks on its independence.

"Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, enshrined in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement. "But around the world, there are governments and those wielding power who find many ways to obstruct it."

To coincide with the special date, Sri Lanka freed journalist Jeyaprakash Tissainayagam, jailed and accused of aiding terrorists for writing about how Sri Lanka's civil war affected the Tamil minority, the BBC reported

And British journalist Paul Martin, who spent part of February and March of this year in a Gaza strip jail, today publicly vowed to fight for imprisoned journalists, according to The Guardian

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) meanwhile blasted Cameroon's president for failing to prevent the death of imprisoned newspaper journalist Germain S. Ngota Ngota.  Jailed on February 26, 2010, after investigating charges of corruption against presidential aid Laurent Esso, Ngoto died on April 22, 2010, due to complications from diabetes. 

In an open letter
, CPJ called on president H.E. Paul Biya to free three other newspaper editors that remain in jail for attempting to cover related presidential activities and to investigate and hold officials accountable for acts of torture.  

World Press Freedom Day has its origins in discussions among African nations about democratic pluralism and press freedom held in Windhoek, Namibia in 1991. 

That international round-table, which the UN convened, led to the Declaration of Windhoek, which called on all African nations to provide constitutional guarantees of press freedom, to dismantle press monopolies and to liberate immediately imprisoned journalists.  The Windhoek Declaration commitments, which became the framework for Press Freedom Day, remain unfulfilled, however. 

Intrepid Chilean journalist and UNESCO award recipient Mónica González Mujica says that the press environment in Latin America is deteriorating. 

González, who made a career of taking risks in her investigative reporting during the Pinochet regime, sees dual threats to journalism from concentration of media ownership and press-averse authoritarian governments.

The result is a terrifying muzzling of information," González said in an interview with UNESCO. "Journalists are losing theirindependence, their dignity and essential skills."

It is tempting to assume that the most dangerous place to be a journalist is in a war zone.  But that is not necessarily the case.

As dangerous as war can be for those covering it, most journalists who die in the line of duty around the world are murdered just for doing their jobs. They are deliberately and individually targeted for exposing corruption or abuses of power, said former UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise


Two journalists were stabbed to death last week in reprisals for reporting on Christian-Muslim violence in Nigeria.

Mexico's disastrous and bloody drug trade has made that country the most dangerous place to be a reporter in the Western hemisphere. Drug cartels target journalists merely for reporting the fact that a violent drug-related act took place, and drug hitmen intimidate photojournalists to ensure no incriminating evidence is pictured at murder scenes. 

Information is powerful, noted Dora Siliya Zambia's acting Minister of Information, and so Zambia is comitted to the liberalization of media. Siliya claims government openness has already resulted in massive growth of traditional and electronic media. 

Siliya embraced this year's World Press Freedom motto of "Access to Information. Right to Know", saying it was essential to a well functioning country's ability to make educated decisions.  

Journalists and leaders around the world joined Siliya in linking press freedom to democratic values. 

"The problem does not only concern journalists," Mónica González said. "It is democracy as a whole that is undermined and weakened, because a badly informed citizen is easy prey to petty anti-democratic tyrants."