17 November 2005

Secretary-General Highlights Immense Stature, Influence of Electronic Media in Remarks to Tunis Forum

NEW YORK, 16 November (UN Headquarters) -- Following are the remarks delivered today by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the closing session of the World Electronic Media Forum in Tunis:

I commend the broadcasting unions, UN entities and other partners, including the Swiss Government, whose contributions have made possible this second edition of the World Electronic Media Forum.

Electronic media are at the very centre of modern life.

When crisis strikes, to whom do people turn first for information and insight?  Electronic media.

At election time, or when societies wrestle with pressing issues, who offers the most accessible public forum for dialogue and debate?  Electronic media.

And day in, day out, where do we find timely alarms about injustice, opportunities to forge connections across great distances, or simple entertainment after a long day's work in factory, field or office tower?  On television, on the radio and, increasingly, on the Internet.

Despite all the things you are criticized for -- sensationalism, frivolity, the use of electronic media to spread pornography and hatred -- you continue to hold a unique position of immense stature and influence.

Today, the world needs you to use that influence, even more than you do already, to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Already, through the Global Media AIDS Initiative, some of the world's leading broadcasters have devoted substantial time and space to the issue:  training their reporters and producers to cover the epidemic; supporting HIV/AIDS-related shows, films and documentaries; and making programmes and materials on HIV/AIDS available to other outlets.  This is a fine example of global citizenship.

I hope we can work together to find similarly creative ways to address other Millennium Development Goals.  I know that the MDGs as such can be difficult to cover.  The language of development economics does not always resonate with the general public.  Moreover, the Goals may sound like other promises of years past that were not kept, prompting questions as to why these new ones should be taken any more seriously.

But the MDGs are different.  They are specific and measurable; they cover the most basic aspects of people's everyday lives; and they have sparked unprecedented mobilization on the part of civil society, including remarkable street demonstrations and other efforts.  Broadcasters were instrumental in galvanizing international support in the aftermath of last year's Indian Ocean tsunami, and have been equally active in covering last month's earthquake in Pakistan.  I urge you to find the words and images that will draw attention to the silent, daily tsunami of poverty, hunger, disease and environmental degradation.

The United Nations will do its part.  We defend, as a matter of principle, article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrines freedom of expression and of the media.  It is my hope that such freedoms will receive a boost from holding a Summit here in the Arab world, where the number of websites and satellite television networks is multiplying, and where many people are yearning for greater freedom and more accountable government.

The United Nations also defends your right, as journalists, to be free from physical intimidation and harm.  While conflict and war provide the backdrop to much of the violence against the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists reports that the vast majority of journalists killed since 1995 did not die in crossfire, but were deliberately hunted down and murdered, often in direct reprisal for their reporting.  I will continue to press Governments to uphold their responsibility both to create conditions in which journalists can do their job safely, and to bring to justice those who commit crimes against them.

The "Broadcasters' Declaration", issued by the first World Electronic Media Forum two years ago, signalled your commitment to help to build an information society that enriches and empowers all people.  I look forward to receiving your "message" to this second phase of the Summit, which I will transmit to the Member States.  I am pleased to know that you want to continue the media forum beyond Tunis, so that the media can play its part in implementing the road map that will emerge from this Summit.

In closing, let me also ask for your help in publicizing the outcome, not just of this Summit, but of the 2005 World Summit held two months ago in New York.  There are a host of stories still to be told about our changing world, and about the new United Nations that is coming into being through a rigorous process of change and renewal.

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