On May 3, the world will celebrate the 20th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day — a day to stand up for freedom of expression and the safety of journalists across print, broadcast and online media.
It is in this spirit that UNESCO has chosen to celebrate the event with the global theme “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media”. The main event will be jointly organized by UNESCO, the Government of Costa Rica and the United Nations-mandated University for Peace in the city of San José, Costa Rica from 2 to 4 May 2013.
The 2013 celebrations are within the context of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which is co-led by UNESCO. The goal of the Plan is to join the work of various UN agencies and external partners on creating a safer environment for journalists to have a stronger impact on violence against journalists.
The media landscape has evolved over the past two decades, creating new opportunities for exchange and dialogue, and for sharing knowledge and information through new platforms. However, it has yet to be translated into stronger respect for fundamental freedoms – particularly as regards the safety of those doing journalism. While progress has been made over the last 20 years, many old challenges remain strong, and new threats to freedom of expression are emerging in the digital news environment.
The date of 3 May was chosen to commemorate the adoption of the historic Declaration of Windhoek during a meeting of African journalists in Namibia convened by UNESCO on 3 May 1991. The Declaration states that press freedom is only possible in a free, independent, and pluralistic media environment. This is a precondition for journalists to be safe to practice their craft, and for crimes against press freedom to be investigated swiftly and thoroughly.
This year, World Press Freedom Day focuses on ensuring the physical and psychological safety of journalists on all media platforms, addressing the high impunity level of crimes against press freedom. It also puts attention on freedom of expression on the Internet as a precondition for digital safety of journalists. This is a pressing issue for press freedom as more than 600 journalists and media workers have been killed in the last ten years while reporting news to the general public. In other words, on average every week a journalist dies while doing his or her job. In 2012 alone, UNESCO’s Director-General condemned the killings of 121 journalists, almost double the annual figures of 2011 and 2010.
Over the past 10 years, only one in ten cases of crimes against journalists, media workers, and social media producers has led to a conviction. This level of impunity goes against the duty of states to protect their citizens. It feeds a vicious cycle where those who use violence against journalists are emboldened when they see that there is little risk of punishment. It sends a signal to the public to keep quiet about corruption, environmental damage or human rights violations, resulting in self-censorship and an erosion of public faith in the judicial system.
Furthermore, as more journalism moves to digital platforms, journalists must be equipped to better protect their electronic records, including the identities of their sources. Increasingly, media workers have had digital equipment confiscated and email accounts subjected to illegitimate surveillance and hacking. A number of news websites have been disabled by attacks.
The official World Press Freedom Day conference venue and hotel:
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cariari
San José, Costa Rica
San Antonio de Belen Ciudad Cariari
San José, 40701, Costa Rica
For more information and to register for the World Press Freedom Day Conference, please go to www.unesco.org/webworld/en/wpfd
(Attention: all visa application must be submitted to the relevant Costa Rican authorities prior to 20 April 2013).