UNESCO’s Director General recognized for leadership on right to information

Two Finnish organizations honoured Irini Bokova in Helsinki on Friday 4 December at a function held in the newly-renovated Päivälehti Museum of Finland’s Helsingen Sanomat newspaper. The citation certificate states that the recognition is granted “to mark the outstanding performance on international level in promotion of the principles of openness, cherished by Anders Chydenius, the initiator of the world’s first Freedom of Information Act (1766)”.

The occasion was a ceremony to mark the eve of 2016 as the 250th year since the world’s first law guaranteeing access to information. A physical medal will be presented to the Director General during the World Press Freedom Day conference in Helsinki on 3 May next year.

Issuing the award were the Anders Chydenius Foundation and the Association for Chydenius Institute. Chair of the board of the Foundation, Mr Gustav Björkstrand, explained that UNESCO, led by Ms Bokova, has significantly contributed to free flow of information legislation.

He added: “Recently, UNESCO worked for the right of access to information to be included into the UN Sustainable development goals”. The Foundation’s Chair further commended the personal leadership role of the Director General to defend free flow of opinions, to advance media literacy and education, and to counter violent extremism.

Previous awardees have been Mr Linus Torvalds (working for open innovations), Mr Miklos Haraszti (working for media freedom) and two journalists (working for tax openness).

In remarks read on her behalf by Mr Guy Berger, UNESCO Director for freedom of expression and media development, the Director-General said she was deeply honoured. The activities being recognized were “mainstays of UNESCO’s mandate, at the heart of all action undertaken by the Organisation for the last seventy years”.

Ms Bokova added: “In times of turbulence, defending freedom of information is essential to advancing freedom of expression, to good governance and the rule of law, and vital for the exercise of all other rights and freedoms”.

She said that the 2016 World Press Freedom Day in Helsinki would “highlight the links between press freedom, a culture of openness and the right to freedom of information, and sustainable development in the digital age.”

The World Press Freedom Day theme for 2016 is “THIS IS YOUR RIGHT: public access to information and fundamental freedoms”, echoing Sustainable Development Goal 16.10.

The award culminated a seminar addressed by Finland’s parliamentary speaker, Ms Maria Lohela; the countries Minister for Education and Culture, Ms Sanni Grahn-Laasonen and Mr Kaisu Niemi, editor in chief of the Helsingen Sanomat newspaper.

UNESCO Director for freedom of expression and media development, Guy Berger, also delivered a separate speech. He signalled UNESCO’s new International Day for Universal Access to Information that will be marked each 28 September, and he highlighted the relevance of freedom of information to contemporary questions such as carbon emissions and computer algorithms.