31 May 2006

Secretary-General Reaffirms Freedom of Information "Bedrock Principle", Appeals for Responsible Exercise, in Message to Asia Media Summit

NEW YORK, 30 May (UN Headquarters) -- Following is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's message to the Asia Media Summit, delivered by Kim Hak-su, Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), in Kuala Lumpur, 29 May:

It gives me great pleasure to send my greetings to the participants in the Asia Media Summit.

Media and information are all around us.  With the proliferation of 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.  Foremost among them is 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.  I declare my firm support for this right, and urge all Governments to reaffirm their commitment to it as well.

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.

Members of the press continue to be killed, maimed, detained or targeted in other ways for exercising their rights.  According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 47 were killed in 2005, and 11 have lost their lives so far this year.  This is tragic and unacceptable.  Old and new media alike must be able to continue their work, unencumbered by threats, fear or harassment.  I urge all relevant actors to do their part to enable the press to do its vital work.  After all, national and global media not only report on change, they are themselves agents of it.  In that spirit, please accept my best wishes for a successful summit.

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