UN LEADERS DESCRIBE FREE PRESS AS ESSENTIAL FOR DEVELOPMENT, IN JOINT WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY MESSAGE
A free press is one of the most essential components of a democratic society, which, in turn, is a prerequisite for sustainable social and economic development.
This fact has become more and more widely understood and accepted in the 10 years since 3 May 1991, when African journalists gathered in the Namibian capital, Windhoek, for a regional seminar on promoting independent and pluralist media. The Windhoek Declaration became the first in a series of commitments, region by region, to uphold the freedom of people everywhere to voice their opinions, and their access to a variety of independent sources of information.
Since 1991, the press in many countries has become more independent and pluralistic. The airwaves have been liberalized. Journalists and others working in the media have become more professional. And, thanks to the Internet, more and more people have gained direct access to the means of mass communication. These changes have helped to establish and strengthen democracy in many countries, by enabling citizens to make their voices heard and so to play a part in decisions that shape their own lives and the future of their countries.
Yet, freedom of expression is always fragile and can never be taken for granted. In many parts of the world today, it is threatened by political, economic, financial, military, religious or even criminal interests. Journalists whose work challenges such interests are liable to suffer intimidation, violence, exile, prison, and even execution or simple murder.
Meanwhile, many ethnic and religious groups -- usually minorities -- are prevented from using the media to communicate their views or express their identity.
Experience has shown that even the most heinous regimes can gain popular support if they manage to muzzle the media, or to manipulate it to arouse fear and hatred among their citizens. Free, independent and pluralist media have an indispensable role to play in rooting out racism and xenophobia. We hope that this year's World Conference against Racism, Xenophobia, Racial Discrimination and Related Intolerance will find ways to strengthen free media throughout the world, and will remind media professionals of their vital role in educating the public and fostering peace and mutual respect among peoples.
On this World Press Freedom Day 2001, we call upon decision-makers at all levels to do whatever they can to ensure that journalists can pursue their work unhindered and undeterred, so that people throughout the world can benefit from the free flow of ideas.
We urge journalists to adhere to the highest standards of their profession; to refuse to lend their skills to hate-mongering; and always to uphold the principle of impartiality.
And we urge the international community as a whole to defend and protect a fundamental human right -– the right to receive and impart information free from censorship, through any media and regardless of frontiers.
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