For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No:  UNIS/GA/1632
Release Date:   3 May 2000
General Assembly President, in Message on World Press Freedom Day,
Says “No Democratic Society Can Exist Without a Free Press”

NEW YORK, 2 May (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message of the President of the General Assembly, Theo-Ben Gurirab (Namibia), on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, which is observed 3 May:

World Press Freedom Day is an occasion to reaffirm the principles of a free, independent and pluralistic press and speak out against their violations, to reaffirm the right of journalists and others in the media to practice their profession without coercion or hindrance, to remember those who paid with their lives for reporting the news and to mobilize the international community in support of press freedom everywhere.

Freedom of expression is an inalienable human right, and freedom of the press an indivisible part and a guarantee of other freedoms.  There is no alternative to a free press.  It is, however, expected of media operators to observe objectivity and eschew bias in reporting the news.  No democratic society can exist without a free press.  The media play a crucial role in promoting democratic principles within society, thereby contributing to stability and development.  They have a critical role to play in our common search for a just international social and economic order, for sustainable human development and in promoting international cooperation to end wars and regional conflicts -– issues for which the United Nations is the world's leading forum.

Although the General Assembly declared an annual observance of World Press Freedom Day as recently as 1993, it affirmed press freedom as far back as 1948, when it proclaimed the right to information in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  That article enshrines the individual’s right to freedom of opinion and expression and the free flow of information through any media regardless of frontiers. 

The designation of 3 May as World Press Freedom Day was an expression of United Nations efforts to further the fruitful interaction between the strengthening of democratic institutions and the functioning of a free press.  That date commemorates the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press, adopted in 1991 by a seminar organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations.  As a Namibian, and in my new capacity as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Information and Broadcasting, I am proud to be associated with the celebration of World Press Freedom Day. 

As we mark the first World Press Freedom Day of the new century, I wish to pay a special tribute to the brave and courageous men and women everywhere who continue to assert press freedom on society’s behalf.  They recognize that a free, independent and pluralistic press is an indispensable component of democracy, that it strengthens and promotes values of good governance, respect for human rights and the empowerment of people to participate in their socio-economic development. 

For their dedication and commitment to freedom of expression, and for defending the right of people to inform and be informed, many journalists are subjected to repression, torture and detention.  An unacceptable number of them pay the ultimate price each year -– with their lives.  Violence directed at the media comes not only from governments, but from armed conflicts, political violence and, increasingly, from organized crime. 

According to the International Federation of Journalists and the International Press Institute, 87 journalists and media staff were killed or murdered in the course of their work during 1999.  That total is second only to the tragic toll of 1994, when 115 media workers died while covering the news.  In its latest report on press freedom worldwide, Reporters sans frontières estimates that the media is in a “critical” situation in at least 28 countries, and in a “difficult” position in another 65.

At the beginning a new millennium and the twenty-first century, the international community must rededicate itself in the pursuit of press freedom.  World leaders, the United Nations and all the key stakeholders in civil society must work together to put an end to the victimization, imprisonment and torture of journalists worldwide.  The United Nations, for its part, has been a persistent advocate of press freedom, and instrumental in laying the legal foundations.  In that context, I encourage all United Nations Member States to provide constitutional guarantees for freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

On this World Press Freedom Day, we celebrate the right of all peoples to freedom of opinion, expression and access to information and knowledge.  Because there is no alternative to a free press, let us be vigilant in defending it.  Let us recommit ourselves to the principles of a free, independent and pluralistic press that advances a culture of respect for human security, human rights, for good governance and for social equality, peace and development for all nations and peoples.

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