Press Releases

    SG/SM/9287
    OBV/418
    4 May 2004

    Secretary-General, in message to mark world press freedom day, Stresses need to get out good news, as well as bad

    NEW YORK, 3 May (UN Headquarters) -- The following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s remarks on World Press Freedom Day, in New York today, 3 May 2004:

    World Press Freedom Day is first and foremost a day on which we remember and pay tribute to journalists who have been killed in the line of duty, or whose reporting has led to their imprisonment or detention.

    We are all painfully aware of the disturbing statistics documented by the Committee to Protect Journalists:  36 journalists killed in 2003, 17 killed in the first three months of this year alone, and 136 in jail as of the end of last year.  Some of these journalists were deliberately targeted because of what they were reporting or because of their affiliation with a news organization.

    Journalists have been resolute in the face of this hostility and danger.  But the continuing threat to their personal and professional integrity must concern all of us who rely on the media as an agent of free expression, as a defender of human rights, as an instrument of development, and as a means of rousing the world’s conscience.

    So today is a day to reaffirm our commitment to the independence of the media, and to ensuring that journalists are able to do their vital work in safety and without fear.

    World Press Freedom Day is also an opportunity to consider some of the wider issues facing the profession.  This year you are focusing on the very contentious issue of what gets reported and what doesn’t.

    Of course, we at the United Nations do not always agree with the emphasis the press gives to some stories at the expense of others.  But such frustration is by no means confined to the media.  After all, Member States often pay undue attention to some issues and little to others of equal or even surpassing concern.  Likewise, it can be maddening to see donors funding projects that might be popular back home but are not all among the most urgent priorities in the country receiving the aid.  But governments and donors are human -- believe it or not -- and they do tend to be influenced by what they see and hear in the media.

    It is with this in mind that the Department of Public of Information has just issued a list of 10 stories that we believe people around the world need and deserve to know more about.

    One of these is the mounting emergency in northern Uganda, where a war is being waged almost entirely by minors, even as the country has made great strides with economic development.  The turbulence in the nearby Central African Republic is also woefully far off the radar screen.  The situation in Tajikistan is likewise scarcely reported, but perhaps for another reason:  real progress is being made on the road to recovery and peace, although, of course, there remains much work to be done.  We need to get good news out, as well as bad.

    DPI’s list does not confine itself to questions of peace and security -– but also hopes to draw attention to the threat of over-fishing, to the plight of AIDS orphans and to a milestone international accord now in the works to promote the rights of persons with disabilities, who now number roughly one out of every 10 people on earth.

    What these issues and situations have in common is that they are each at a critical moment –- a moment when outside attention, understanding and assistance could make a real difference.

    I hope you will not construe this list as criticism, or as an effort to try and tell you how to do your job, or to impose on you notions of “responsibility” beyond those you already shoulder.  It is simply a contribution to the rough-and-tumble competition for column inches and airtime, for the hearts and minds of you and your editors, and for the political will and resources of the Member States.  Just as it should not take the collapse of a State for the international community to act, so it should not take a full-fledged crisis to attract the media spotlight.  We should not, by our action or inaction, by what we report or do not, send a message -- especially to those countries and people in need who struggle along in good faith -- that only widespread bloodshed or total dysfunction will get them attention and help.

    These are challenges for all of us, not just the press.  I look forward to your coverage, to your questions, and to seeing how your formidable power can contribute to the common good.  I will continue to be available to you as much as I can, and to do whatever I can to make it easier for you to carry out your essential work.

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