On the 20th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day this year, UNESCO Director-General, Ms Irina Bokova presented a medal to Mr Alain Modoux in recognition of his pivotal role in the establishment of World Press Freedom Day (WPFD).
“You are the man behind World Press Freedom Day,” said the Director-General, in her remarks delivered when making the award in San Jose, Costa Rica, during with UNESCO’s annual global conference to mark the WPFD.
As Assistant Director-General in charge of UNESCO’s Programme for Freedom of Expression, Democracy and Peace in 1991, Mr Modoux was organized an historic seminar on “Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Media” in Windhoek, Namibia that year.
On 3 May, the journalists participating in the event drew up the Windhoek Declaration which highlighted that press freedom should be understood as a media system that is free, pluralistic and independent. They insisted that that this dispensation was essential for to democracy and development.
The Declaration soon became a landmark document in the fight for press freedom around the world. After two years of dedicated advocacy and perseverance by Mr Modoux, that the United Nations General Assembly in 1993 acknowledged the landmark Windhoek statement by adopting the date of its adoption as suitable for the annual occasion of an international day for press freedom.
The significance of this General Assembly decision today is that the international community now sets aside 3 May each year as a special time to celebrate and advance press freedom and freedom of expression around the world.
Since 1993, UNESCO has led the global observations of World Press Freedom Day by holding a global conference in a selected country and promoting a global theme appropriate to each year. In 2013, the theme has been “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media” and the main event co-hosted by UNESCO, the Government of Costa Rica, and the University for Peace.
At the same time, World Press Freedom Day has also evolved into a truly global event with celebrations taking place as a result of many independent initiatives in over 100 different countries annually.
In celebration of the 20th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, UNESCO has published a commemorative book “Pressing for Freedom: 20 Years of World Press Freedom Day”. Mr Modoux’s account of his work to establish this day on the international calendar can be read in the publication.