2 May 2006

Secretary-General Says Freedom of Expression Fundamental, Universal; Appeals for Right to Be Exercised Responsibly, in World Day Message

NEW YORK, 28 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's message on World Press Freedom Day, observed 3 May:

Information is all around us.  With the proliferation of so-called new media, new technologies and new ways of distributing content, information has become far more accessible.  It is also becoming more diverse.  Mainstream media reporting, for example, is being supplemented by "participatory media", such as blogs.

But, as media and journalism evolve, certain bedrock principles remain paramount.  On World Press Freedom Day, I again declare my firm support for the universal right to freedom of expression.  Many members of the press have been killed, maimed, detained or targeted in other ways for pursuing that right in good conscience.  According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 47 were killed in 2005, and 11 have lost their lives so far this year.  It is tragic and unacceptable that the number of journalists killed in the line of duty has become a barometer for measuring press freedom.  I urge all Governments to reaffirm their commitment to the right to "seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers", as set out in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

At the same time, I appeal to everyone to exercise that right responsibly and, where possible, proactively.  Media have a powerful influence on human behaviour.  As such, and as the General Assembly affirmed in its recent resolution establishing the new United Nations Human Rights Council, they have "an important role to play in promoting tolerance, respect for and freedom of religion and belief".  Media should not be vehicles for incitement or degradation, or for spreading hatred.  It must be possible to exercise discretion, without encroaching on fundamental freedoms.

On World Press Freedom Day, let us recognize that national and global media not only report on change, but are themselves agents of change.  We should all be grateful for the work and imagination of the press.  I trust old and new media alike will be able to continue their work, unencumbered by threats, fear or other constraint.

* *** *