"A story with a happy ending," was how UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova described the Award Ceremony at the 2010 World Press Freedom Day conference in Brisbane on Monday when she presented Chilean journalist Gonzales Mujica with the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom prize.
For, unlike so many journalists working in difficult areas, Gonzales Mujica survived to be present to receive the award.
“Throughout her professional life, Mónica González Mujica has shown courage in shining the light on the dark side of Chile,” said the jury president, Joe Thloloe, Press Ombudsman of the Press Council of South Africa. She had embodied the very spirit of the award. She had been jailed, tortured and hauled before the courts but remained steadfast. Ms Bokova described her as “a heroine of the struggle against dictatorship in her country”.
Delegates at the conference observed a minute's silence in memory of journalists and other media professionals who lost their lives while doing their job. The theme of the conference was “Freedom of information: the right to know”.
While the scrutiny of the press was not always welcome, it is a fundamental and necessary part of any society whose government and institutions purport to be accountable. Is it not the press’s role to be a thorn in the side of the authorities, at every level of society? UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova asked.
Co-operating with the media by giving them the facts – in other words, “freedom of information” - is essential to press freedom, she said. “It is not enough for governments and organisations to provide access to information. Journalists are essential to our enjoyment of the “right to know”, and they must therefore be able to work in an environment conducive to free and independent reporting”, she said.
“Once again, this year, a shadow is cast over our celebration of World Press Freedom Day. I am of course referring to the ill-treatment of journalists. Last year, UNESCO condemned the killing of 77 journalists. Most of these were not war casualties – they were local reporters going about their everyday business of covering the news.
“Countless other journalists all over the world continue to endure harassment, intimidation or physical assault in the course of defending our right to know. We cannot help but be overcome with indignation and concern that serious violations against press freedom persist - despite repeated international calls to end impunity for those who harm journalists. In the past decade, in eight out of ten cases, those responsible for murdering journalists were not brought to justice. This is simply unacceptable.
“I cannot emphasise strongly enough that national authorities have the primary obligation to prevent and punish crimes against journalists. Today, I call upon governments everywhere to assume this responsibility as a matter of urgency.
“The journalists who take the gravest of risks to keep us informed are truly remarkable people. In recognition of this, in 1997 our organisation established the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom prize,” she said.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right but around the world, there were governments and those wielding power who find many ways to obstruct it, UN Secretary General Ban K-moon said in New York to mark the day.
“They impose high taxes on newsprint, making newspapers so expensive that people can’t afford to buy them. Independent radio and TV stations are forced off the air if they criticise government policy. The censors are also active in cyberspace, restricting the use of the Internet and new media.
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