Speaking Out on World Press Freedom Day

Posted by Joanne Levine
May 3, 2012
Members of the Press Hold Placards To Mark World Press Freedom Day

Hundred of journalists, bloggers, activists and officials from every corner of the globe have descended on Tunis to honor UNESCO's World Press Freedom Day. From Burma and Bahrain, to Qatar and Zimbabwe, those who write, film, text, and tweet the truth will spend three days listening, discussing, and exchanging ideas about the power -- and perils -- of free speech.

Over a year ago, Tunisia's Jasmine revolution sparked transitions throughout the Middle East. Millions have come out, and keep coming, to demand change and the right to express themselves -- from Tahrir Square and Benghazi, to Sanaa and Hom.

The clarion call for freedom has not been without its bumps and setbacks. Even in Tunisia where there has been so much promise, a setback to freedom of expression came today in the form of blasphemy charges against the TV owner of Nessma for airing the film, "Persepolis."

On this day, however, the world will shine a spotlight on journalists who risk everything to speak out. Today, the world can see and hear the international community mark World Press Freedom Day with opening ceremonies at a place once considered a symbol of oppression, the Presidential Palace in Tunisia. The event will feature a virtual town hall that will connect people in Amsterdam and Washington, D.C., with remarks by Assistant Secretary of State Esther Brimmer and a video message from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In addition, the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Award will be presented to brave Azerbaijani journalist Eynulla Fatullayev. And, over the next few days, highlights from the gathering will include a speech by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Tawakkol Karman and discussions on a variety of topics, including the value of media reforms, decriminalization of free speech, and how press freedom can help transform societies.

As we learned last year when the United States hosted World Press Freedom Day in Washington, D.C., some of the most valuable aspects of this annual commemoration are the opportunities for participants -- journalists from around the world -- to hold discussions on the critical issues they face and to meet each other, compare notes, and build new supportive networks of contacts.

World Press Freedom Day also represents a powerful reminder of the challenges journalists face just to do their jobs. The Committee to Protect Journalists released a report stating that 639 reporters have been killed for doing their jobs since 1992. In 565 of those cases, the killers went unpunished. According to CPJ, vocal journalists are the mostly likely victims. As a former journalist myself, I have witnessed the great cost journalists pay to speak out. Today, I join my colleagues and those around the world in honoring them and their work.

For more information on press freedom, go to HumanRights.gov and the UNESCO website.

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