#WPFD 2013: Pressing for Freedom of Expression and Protection for Journalists

May 3, 2013
Television Crew at Work in Mumbai, India

In 2012, UNESCO condemned the killing of more than 120 journalists -- killed for the simple act of doing their jobs. Many, many more -- such as Ethiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu, recipient of 2013 Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Day award -- are imprisoned or suffer from physical or legal assaults for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Ms. Alemu has written critically about political and social issues, particularly those affecting the poor and women, in her society. She was arrested in June 2011 while working for a national weekly newspaper and is serving a five-year prison sentence.

Today, on the 20th anniversary of UNESCO's World Press Freedom Day (WPFD), more than 400 people are gathered in Costa Rica to both recognize how far we have come and to note how much progress remains to be made to ensure freedom of expression and protection for journalists. The theme of this year's event is "Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media."

In today's rapidly changing environment, the focus is not only on the traditional realms of print, radio, and TV but also on freedom of expression online and for an increasing population of citizen journalists and bloggers. In a joint statement for WPFD, UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon and UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova wrote, "Bloggers, citizen reporters and social media producers, as well as their sources, face increasing threats to their safety. In addition to physical dangers, they are being targeted with psychological and emotional violence through cyber-attacks, data breaches, intimidation, undue surveillance and invasions of privacy."

In recognition of the United States' strong support for UNESCO's work to ensure freedom of expression, high-level U.S. Government representatives at World Press Freedom Day include Anne Andrews, U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica; Michael Hammer, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs; and Jane Zimmerman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

We have also sponsored 40 journalist "Fellows" from around the world -- everywhere from Bahrain to Zimbabwe -- to participate in the World Press Freedom Day event. Through their reporting on their experiences at the conference and by sharing the information and connections that they make here, the message of press freedom/freedom of expression is disseminated to a much wider audience -- much of which lives in places where it cannot take these freedoms for granted.

One recent, significant step forward is the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. In April 2012, the Chief Executives of the UN system agencies officially endorsed the plan with UNESCO as the co-lead for its implementation. The plan focuses on coordination to help governments develop new legislation supporting freedom of expression and to fully implement existing legislation. It also focuses on raising awareness among governments, professional associations, and the general public of the risks faced by journalists. How to fully integrate this plan into national and societal frameworks is one of the main topics of the 2013 WPFD.

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