2 May 2001


NEW YORK, 1 May (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan on World Press Freedom Day, which is observed on 3 May:

World Press Freedom Day is a day for every citizen of the world to reflect on the value of a free press and its importance to every other freedom we cherish. Freedom of the press ensures that the abuse of every other freedom can be known, can be challenged, and even defeated. Where a free press is imperilled, muzzled or banned altogether, every other freedom is limited too, and democracy itself threatened. That is why the fight for a free press is a priority for the United Nations and a central part of our larger mission to promote better standards of life in larger freedom.

In this year of the World Conference on Racism, it is important to appreciate the role that a free and vibrant press can play in bringing the horror of racism to light, and inspiring people the world over to act on behalf of victims of racism, discrimination and bigotry of every kind. While we must recognize the danger of the mass media spreading false and ugly stereotypes, the solution lies in an ever-livelier debate in which racist ideas can be defeated. We owe a great and continuing debt to the courageous journalists who, in many cases, risk careers and lives to tell the story of injustice and discrimination.

This year is also the tenth anniversary of the historic Windhoek Conference which gave birth to World Press Freedom Day. The legacy of Windhoek continues to inspire our work for press freedom around the world. In particular, Windhoek’s acknowledgement of the role of a free press in the maintenance of democracy and promotion of development has made it far more difficult for those who wish to treat freedom of the press as a luxury of development, rather than a condition of democracy. In Africa, as everywhere, a free press can act as the voice of the people against tyranny and oppression, and can serve as the essential link between government and the governed.

Even as we celebrate today the power and promise of a free press, we must redouble our efforts to help those imperilled journalists and newspapers whose only crime has been to tell the truth. We need them more than ever –- to help fight racism, to heighten awareness of the scourge of HIV/AIDS, to secure democracy, and to promote development. Where their rights are denied, no one can be free; where their voices are silenced, no one can rely on being heard. In the spirit of Windhoek, let this year be a year of real progress for a free press in Africa, as everywhere. S

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