11 December 2003



(Reissued as received.)



GENEVA, 10 December (UN Information Service) -- The World Electronic Media Forum this morning held a round table on media freedom and the information society, with one panel discussing “Media Freedom in General” and the second dealing with the “Media Landscape in the Arab World”.

As the keynote speaker, José Roberto Marinho, Co-Chairman of “Globo Organizations” of Brazil, said the media was confronted with a tendency that was leading to a horizontal and vertical concentration, as well as a centralization of production and distribution.  Although that situation might be beneficial because of economies of scale at the international level, it posed a danger at the local level.  Many developing countries were unable to produce their own media products locally.  In many countries, there was also a growing tendency by States to regulate and control the mass media.

Iceland’s Minister of Education, Science and Culture, Tomas Ingi Olrich, said there was a lack of pluralism in the dissemination of the world’s media.  The channelling of news through the Internet had flourished.  The impact of the Internet on other means of mass communications was just starting.

David Flint, Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Authority and Chairman of the Executive Council of the World Association of Press Councils, said that as democracy was strengthened, checks and balances should be exercised in the institutions dealing with mass communications.  The freedom of the press could not be absolute, and there was always a restriction somewhere.  It was essential that the restriction of the right to freedom should remain in a very narrow area.

The introduction of the Internet had changed the scenario of the world media, said Timothy Balding, Director-General of the World Association of Newspapers, adding that the field of electronic media was also growing even in the poorest developing countries.  About one billion people read the print media each day.  However, individuals in the least developed countries were being tortured and imprisoned for simply exercising their rights. 

Iftikhar Ahmed Chowdhury, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations, said the principles of freedom of the press were reflected in the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights of 1948.  All the voices in a society, including the most vulnerable groups, should be heard through the exercise of their freedom of the press; and freedom of the press should be developed in a pluralistic manner. 

The Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, said that article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was an important instrument in pursuing the freedom of the press.  In the world, millions of people were dying of hunger while many other millions were undernourished.  In Ethiopia, for instance, many millions of people had perished because of the Government’s repression of the right to be informed. 

On the second theme of the debate -- “Media Landscape in the Arab World” -- Naomi Sakr, a specialist on the Political Economy of Communication in the Arab World, said the new element entering in the Arab media was competition, with channels like Al Jazeera, Arab TV and Abou Dhabi TV emerging.  With the introduction of Arabic satellites, people were able to acquire knowledge of other cultures and languages.  For the purpose of commercial profitability, some Arab media were utilizing Western formats in their transmissions, including programmes such as “Big Brother”, thus reducing their previous transmission of dramas and series.

Wadah Khanfar, Managing Director of Al Jazeera Satellite, said his station became a good example of pluralism when it was created seven years ago.  He also noted that Al Jazeera was considered as being a Mossad agent when it reflected Israeli views; a suspected Saddam Hussein supporter when it aired his taped videos; and a CIA agent when it reflected the United States views.  Some Arab countries were also against Al Jazeera because the station gave airtime to the political opponents of the Arab regimes.

Habib Chawki Hamraoui, Director-General of ENTV Algeria, said that freedom of the press was expanding in the Arab world.  Also, the Arab media had to overcome the Islamophobic and Arabophbic attitudes of the Western world.  The manner to exercise the freedom of the press should not be imposed from outside.

Aidan White, the General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, said that the movement of change taking place in the Arab world was important.  There was, however, a valid concern about the freedom of the press in Tunisia.  The United States stand against the freedom of the press in the Arab world was not acceptable.

Ahmet Oren, Chairman of Ihlas of Turkey, said the Turkish regional channel reflected the region’s key interests in the mass media.  It prepared several hours of media productions on Iraq.  Freedom of the press in the region should not be tied to war reports, but to entertainment too. 

Mervat M. Tallawy, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), said satellite productions had been on the increase in the Arab world with 300 digital satellite transmissions.  At least 6 million Arabs had access to the Internet.  There was also a change of attitudes among the Arab governments, which was a positive aspect.


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