World Press Freedom Day

June 2003 -

Repression of journalists is frequently not punished. This year World Press Freedom Day - celebrated on 3 May - centred on the theme of this lack of punishment. World Press Freedom Day is an initiative of Unesco, which uses the annual event to stress the importance of independent media.

Each week journalists die while exercising their profession. Most of the casualties do not occur in a war zone; the majority of those who die are killed by criminals or government agents because they want to expose corruption or the abuse of power. According to the annual report of Reporters without Borders, a non-governmental organisation in Paris, 25 journalists were killed in 2002, 700 were behind bars, and 1420 were attacked, threatened or abducted.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported a total of 54 murdered journalists. According to the organisation Iraq, where nine journalists were killed during the first weeks of the war, is the country that is most antagonistic to journalists. Cuba was in second place. Fidel Castro placed 28 journalists behind bars in March 2003, some for life. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Togo and Colombia are also among the top 10.

During the opening of the international conference in Jamaica, Koïchiro Matsuura, director-general of Unesco, called on all governments to punish crimes against journalists. Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the UN, commemorated the day with a message about the danger of the hate media: strong negative reporting about specific groups of people. Such ethno-centric defamation campaigns have incited mass murders in Rwanda, Bosnia and the Ivory Coast.

This year’s Unesco/ Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize was awarded to Amira Hass. She has been reporting from the occupied Palestinian territories for the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz for ten years.